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    Robert Feintuch’s airy conundrums

    Robert Feintuch’s paintings spin around skinny legs, broad backs, and red, averted faces. In some of those works, now on view at Miller Yezerski Gallery, the pivot point is a single hand, pointing.

    In “Legs Up,” for instance, a man lies in the clouds, his feet jutting into the air, his torso nearly immersed in a whipped-cream froth of cumulus clouds. He’s been sundered like Wile E. Coyote. The slapstick posture makes a delicious counterpoint to the heavenly setting. The man’s hand points downward, as if the cause of his fall lies below.

    The hand reminded me of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” although this fellow’s gesture, with fingers tucked into palm, is not as open as God’s or Adam’s. Indeed, it’s accusatory, not generative. The pointing hand adds vinegar to the scene. The figure in “Legs Up” might be man or God, beaten one too many times by humanity’s failures.

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    Feintuch’s a terrific painter, whatever the subject. These paintings glow. The pinks soak up sun even in a darkened room, and they have the dry, fine-grained quality of frescoes. Influences include Gothic portrayals of heaven, the discomfort and vulnerability in the fleshy, up-close-and-personal photographs of John Coplans, and the hybrid critters sculpted by Feintuch’s wife, Rona Pondick.

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    In “Assumption,” two pink feet stick out from the bottom of a cloud. The protagonist is being assumed into heaven like Mary, but there’s apparently a clog in the system and he’s gotten stuck halfway there. These works wrestle with the debilitations and humiliations mortality imposes on us, but also with the possibility of grace, which we find in beauty and in hope.

    Bob Oppenheim’s intimate paintings, also at Miller Yezerski, explore surface — what can be seen there and what can be sensed just beneath. Oppenheim paints over his canvas, then he abrades the surface to reveal undercoats. He stitches thread into the canvas, and leaves tangles of it drifting.

    “Flayed” is as pink as Feintuch’s paintings, swiped with paint but scraped as well, revealing glimpses of blue below. The stitched lines read like scars, but thread flies into gleeful doodles and tangles; in one place, Oppenheim has tipped the whitish thread with green, and it looks like spring grass. Each of his works might be a portrait: a picture of traces history has left, of shrouded moods and secrets, of playfulness, and of the entanglements of life.

    Forte and Beal’s takes on grays

    Marjorie Forte’s “Agnes” series, up at Soprafina Gallery, is named for Agnes Martin. The drawings made with embroidery floss pay homage to the minimalist artist’s grids and their absorbing, meditative pulse. Forte draws grids, then embroiders over them in grays and blacks. The thread wavers and imbues each grid with a wobble of imperfection, but it’s the interaction of the grays that magnetizes these pieces.

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    “Agnes 11” sets darker grays around a central vertical and horizontal axis. The bottom is nearly black, the top softer toned, and depending on how close you are to the piece, the grays pop against each other, or blend into one another. These quiet works prompt active looking, and reveal more than their simple recipe suggests.

    Soprafina has made a terrific pairing, mounting a small show of Thaddeus Beal’s drawings across the gallery. Beal’s drawings also stick to shades of gray and black, but they are intricately organic, rain forests to Forte’s careful garden plots.

    Beal carves into plexiglass, submerges it in a solution mixed with graphite powder, presses paper against the surface, and soaks. Some would call that printmaking. Then he goes back and draws freehand with charcoal. “Pangaea 3” could be an epic Tolkein landscape, with crystalline outcroppings shot with light and dark, forbidding gullies — moody and gorgeous.

    Gay during the scourge

    Sage Sohier started photographing gay couples in the 1980s, as the AIDS crisis mounted. Her show of that work at Carroll and Sons is sweet, humane, and tough. “David and Eric, Boston, 1986” depicts two men on a bed. One is shirtless, with a bandage on his chest where he appears to have a port for medication. The photograph feels like a relic of its time. The men have Tom Selleck mustaches, for one, but it’s also a picture of the scourge — the devastation of the illness, and the love, pride, and unity it prompted.

    “Gordon & Jim with Gordon’s mother, Margot, San Diego, 1987” sets up a tense dynamic: Gordon has his arm around his mother and reaches behind him an arms’ length to hold Jim’s hand. Jim looks like an outsider in this family portrait.

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    These photographs show couples with their children; they also show couples in leather halters and chaps. They all seem courageous. At a time when the federal government was ignoring a public health crisis that centered around gay men, these subjects wanted their lives documented. They’re saying, simply, “This is who we are.”

    Much has changed in 30 years. On March 20 at 6 p.m., Carroll and Sons will hold a panel discussion with Sohier, photographer Amber Davis Tourlentes, and curators James Sheldon and Al Miner about that cultural shift.

    Robert Feintuch: Recent Work

    Bob Oppenheim: Je Suis

    At: Miller Yezerski Gallery,

    460 Harrison Ave.,

    through March 17.

    617-262-0550, www.milleryezerskigallery.com

    Marjorie Forte: Recent Work

    Thaddeus Beal: Drawings

    At: Soprafina Gallery,

    450 Harrison Ave.,

    through March 28.

    617-728-0770, www.soprafina.com

    Sage Sohier:

    At Home With Ourselves

    At: Carroll and Sons,

    450 Harrison Ave.,

    through March 28.

    617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net

    Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.