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‘Between You and Me’ is a portrait of two portraitists

At LaMontagne Gallery, Isabelle Higgins and Barbara Ishikura share vivid palettes and kinetic energy.

Isabelle Higgins, “October 1, 2021,” 2023. The oil on canvas is part of the exhibition "Between You and Me" at LaMontagne Gallery, Boston.Isabelle Higgins

So much flows between self and other, painter and subject, and even individual and collective in “Between You and Me” at LaMontagne Gallery.

The show features work by Boston-area portraitists Isabelle Higgins, a self-portraitist, and Barbara Ishikura, who depicts friends and family. Their portraits share high-keyed palettes; graphic depictions that echo the punch and pathos of Alice Neel; and patterns and accents that make scenes hustle and jump, à la Henri Matisse.

Such details spin around the portraits’ subjects like wind and rain around the eye of a hurricane. Tone and action outside reflect intense internal energy.

Isabelle Higgins, “I Can't Flirt, I'm Thinking About Caskets,” 2021, oil on canvas.Isabelle Higgins

Higgins, who was born in 1996, bathes “I Can’t Flirt, I’m Thinking About Caskets” in electric blue, against which her orange knit cap shines like a beacon; her shirt is spangled with neon green. She sits at a table with a bottle in her hand, and out the window is another beacon: Allston’s Twin Donuts, lit up at night like Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” Higgins isn’t even in the bright restaurant, like Hopper’s lonely-looking figures, but elsewhere, in the shadows.

A similar disaffection shows up in “October 1, 2021,” in which the artist sits in blue light at a table with others. There’s a birthday cake with “25″ on top and other exquisitely rendered details — a bouquet of hydrangeas, berries on plates. Conversation goes on, but Higgins, at the center with her face in her hand, looks lost.


Barbara Ishikura, “Sam in the Studio,” 2022, acrylic on canvas.Barbara Ishikura

Ishikura’s subjects loll and recline like queens. “Sam in the Studio” is pink and radiant in a striped beach cover-up. Paint seeps and drips and Sam’s surroundings bloom: a brilliant blue lamp with a shade like a petticoat, the leaves of a thriving vine above her head. The subjects in “Four Women and Pink Shag,” — women of a certain age, one nude — lounge, sipping wine and smoking, comfortable and fully possessed of their power.


Barbara Ishikura, “Four Women and Pink Shag,” 2023, acrylic and oil stick on canvas.Barbara Ishikura

The artworks in “Between You and Me” set up a keen dynamic between the scrutiny and tenderness of a young self-portraitist and the pleasure evident in the work of an artist decades older (Ishikura doesn’t note her age on her CV, but she got her bachelor’s degree in 1985.) They also vibrate with a rippling energy animated by color, story, pattern, and all we infer and project about each other.

BETWEEN YOU AND ME: Works by Isabelle Higgins and Barbara Ishikura

At LaMontagne Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through March 25. 617-487-3512,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.