Mary Lum calls her show at Carroll and Sons "Way Out." The title, she says in her artist's statement, suggests "multiple points of departure."
Lum makes smallish constructions of paint and collaged bits of photos and comics. She depicts cities in dizzying fragments, veering angles, sharp forms, and passages of color that are ascetic in one work, juicy in the next. If these are a way out of the metropolis, with all its concrete and steel, its sheen and its grime, they are also a way in — a portal to an internal experience of the city that's driven by structures, sensation, and movement.
"The High Line" presents New York's elevated park in summer-green slabs floating against a spring-green ground, all painted. Between two of the hovering squares, like spicy sandwich meat to their whole grain bread, shoots out a photo collage — a tight grid of colors, tiny rectangular snatches of streets and signs, patched together in a jaunty, irregular rhythm. The piece conveys the serenity of the park, with the jumble and blare of the city unavoidable in the midst of it.
Snipped from a comic book, the beige grid of a building is the still kernel at the center of Lum's spinny "Paris 45172." In the same illustration, a green building angles toward the beige one, setting the whole piece in motion. An inverted photo of stairs swivels around a corner at the top, and rays of painted green and yellow jut toward the bottom. On either side, planes and lines radiate asymmetrically. Lum excels at finding and amplifying small tensions into urban whirlwinds.
She also shoots straight photos that lean toward crisp abstraction. These show us the lens through which she views the city. At first glance, "Paris 7" looks more like a painted tricolor — the artist's version of the French flag? But it's a photo all right: a ghostly blue reflection of a street in a window, fiery-red painted wood paneling, and a concrete wall painted chocolaty brown.
There must be space between each of them, but Lum has found a perspective (or a camera lens) that flattens them together into a single plane. By homing in on surprising bits like this, she sees the city anew. Accruing them in her collaged paintings, she reinvents the city, with all its sharp edges and frenetic motion, as something hallucinatory.
Still lifes with Gothic twist
Tara Sellios is a young artist who, not two years after getting her bachelor's degree, had a lush and alarming exhibition of photographs in 2011 at Suffolk University Art Gallery that took on the tradition of Dutch still life painting with a Gothic horror twist. She continues that theme in her new show at Gallery Kayafas, which includes photos, large-scale watercolors, and a small, wine-spattered installation that's inevitably less gory and pulpy than the rest of her work.
Her staged photographs, which grapple with carnality, mortality, and gluttony, haven't changed much. They stuff viewers with visual goodies, like the grapes in "Luxuria, Untitled No. 1," all plump, ripe, and translucent, and then gall us with intimations of violence and death — in this case, a half dozen scaly, taloned birds' feet snaking out from amid the bounty; in other images, uncooked, fully plucked fowl.
Viscerally exciting four years ago, this approach is by now formulaic. Sellios needs to find nuance, and not simply in more and more agitating detail. If she doesn't go straight for the jugular, she is likely to discover a wealth of subtlety and tenderness in this subject matter's embrace of life and death.
Her ambitious watercolors (with gouache and ink) provide a different window onto the same themes. The artist's fluid brushwork mediates and softens the gore in ways photography, with its sharp realism, does not. In "Luxuria Untitled No. 1, Drawing Twelve Fish," a wreath of eel-like fish, each one stuffed into the mouth of the next, looks like something that might actually appear at a feast — cooked, ornate, and inviting as it is appalling.
Memory, unreliableand formative
In her show at Soprafina Gallery, Jennifer Caine takes a new tack with the fluttery, deeply layered marks she has used in prints and paintings. She cuts and layers paper in order to convey memory's mutability — how spotty it is, how unreliable, and yet sometimes deep and formative.
Caine uses a laser to slice little flicks in three sheets of paper. Sometimes the holes, charred at the edges, cast shadows on the page beneath. Sometimes they fit over another hole, and another, to a dark backing and the suggestion of a lost detail. In "Filament," the marks swarm in two passages; because they're horizontal, they evoke a landscape. These pieces express the durability of a mark, but also convey deterioration.
Versatile, small etchings shot with light and shadow are on display beside the cut-paper pieces, and the variety of gestures the artist makes in ink — smoky smudges, delicate lines, blots of pitch black — reflect poorly on the cut-paper marks, which are distinguishable only by shape. I found myself wondering why Caine hadn't chosen a minimally translucent paper for the cut-paper works, to create another register — hints of what she'd done beneath, which would suggest memory's shifting sands.
MARY LUM: Way Out
At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through June 26.
TARA SELLIOS: Luxuria
At: Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through June 27.
Strata — New Work
At: Soprafina Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through June 27. 617-728-0770, www.soprafina.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.