Marc Mitchell and Derek Larson’s stringent but zippy painting show at Laconia Gallery started off with a challenge. The artists used to live across the street from each other, and they agreed to produce work regularly, and then meet and discuss. Their abstract paintings responded to one another. You won’t see a one-on-one correspondence in the show, “Just Gaming,” but you’ll see the connections.
Both make crackling good work, sugar for the eye, but laden with other nutrients. Mitchell’s “Drawing Projects” series displays range, versatility, and a puckish playfulness. These small paintings are slurpy and garish. “Drawing Project #88 (Drippy)” sports a foreshortened lime green grid, boxy and bordered in black and white stripes, set over a loose, speckled black square. A mudslide of lush color erupts from the center. The artist toys with spatial illusion, modernism, gesture, and contrasting textures and colors like a kid in a sandbox.
In larger paintings, he stretches those muscles. “Random Access Memories” layers pattern over pattern — stripes, a grid, an Escher-like set of never-ending stacked steps. A white frame juts into the scene and pins a black box onto the Escher steps, aiming for containment. Then a blur of spray-painted green and swooping blue stripes defiantly interrupt all the patterns’ careful geometries with eye-catching, drippy, imperfect mess.
Larson’s pieces fit in the rubric of painting, although in some, he doesn’t even use paint. Taunting and active, “FOTFML” is an animation projected on aluminum that looks like a melting jack-o-lantern, swimming with plaid and great swipes of color down the middle — like the mudslide in Mitchell’s “Drawing Projects” piece.
Some of his other pieces, such as “Farrell’s,” are literally electrified: He mounts fluorescent and black light bulbs on panels covered with paint and patterned squares of plaster. The long, straight bulbs fit formally — everything is in a rough grid — but they also cast light and shadow over the painting’s surface. Patterns impressed into the plaster fall into sharp relief. Colors shift and glow.
Both artists bring an impudent relish to their work, along with a visual vocabulary that borrows as easily from animation and computer graphics as it does from painting.
Flowers by Eric Stefanski
Eric Stefanski’s large-scale paintings of flowers (plus one ratty, gaudy sculpture) at Khaki Gallery have a nervy, in-your-face quality. He is out to undermine the idea of floral still lifes as exemplars of a certain kind of beauty and technical proficiency. Stefanski, who is in the graduate program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, makes brassy, brooding, and violent flower paintings.
He uses spiky gestures and mixes tar, stained bed sheets, and other materials with his paint. I was reminded of Cy Twombly’s drippy, herky-jerky flower paintings, some with angry slashes for stems, although Twombly didn’t shy from the gorgeousness of a ripe blossom.
The red tulips and yellow daisies in Stefanski’s “Spring at Dawn” are not luxuriant; they look more like emblems than flowers. The green stems could be spears or skewers, jutting out of an encrusted earth heaving with debris. The yellow-beige sky is nothing you’d want to breathe. The flowers persist, but this is no ode to their fortitude. Rather, in Stefanski’s world, the blooms are mutants, perhaps as dangerous as the land they spring from.
Indeed, the flower in “Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger” is nearly colorless, four weak-tea petals on a brownish stalk rising from a cherry-red vase. It’s bold, simple, iconic, and a canny counterbalance to its white background, which curdles with stuff embedded in the paint — doilies smudged in black and pink, dirty fabric.
The sculpture, “Red Tulips With Chair,” doesn’t have as much punch as the paintings. The awkwardness here seems to arise as much from its making as from the vision that brought it about, whereas in the paintings this artist’s aesthetic is searing.
Group show by Cuban artists
“A Misunderstanding/ Un Malentendido,” the title of a group show featuring a multi-generational group of Cuban printmakers, suggests any number of gulfs — between Cubans who have left and those who have stayed, between Cuba and the US, or between artists, with their idiosyncratic visions, and non-artists.
All the work is strong technically; there’s plenty of graphic muscle. These pieces carry a sense of magic and fable, and sometimes that goes off track into sweetness. The best pieces have a dark edge. These include Dania Fleites’s engravings in old etching plates that came to Cuba from the Soviet Union, which Fleites has fashioned into tools. In “Fruits of Power,” an axe, and “Duality,” a two-handled saw, the artist engraves images of hands. These pieces at once praise labor and question authority.
Norberto Marrero’s vital, surrealist metal etching “That’s How We Go” churns with colorful spirals in the background as two fishermen try to harpoon the same fish. It’s fantastical and charged with threat. The fishermen are laconic but monstrous. One rides a beast that is part bird, part man. A woman appears in the foreground wearing a peach kimono, hair flaming, her expression coolly indifferent. It’s an evocative tale of competition and desire.
Marc Mitchell and Derek Larson: Just Gaming
At: Laconia Gallery,
433 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 23. 857-222-0333, www.laconiagallery.com
Eric Stefanski: Bye Bye Paradise
At: Khaki Gallery,
460 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 31. 781-572-7263, www.khakigallery.net
A Misunderstanding/ Un Malentendido
At: Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second St., East Cambridge, through Nov. 26. 617-577-1400, www.multiculturalartscenter.org
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.