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James Cambronne, Lynne Harlow, and Kirk Amaral Snow in gallery shows

James Cambronne’s  modernist totem is part of his installation at Proof.
James Cambronne’s modernist totem is part of his installation at Proof.

James Cambronne, whose paintings intriguingly draw on formal abstraction and Native American patterning, soars into installation work with “Where What Is?” at Proof Gallery.

It’s a brilliant site-specific piece. Cambronne has an alchemist’s attention to detail. He knows how yellow hums against red, how a pattern of triangles and rectangles thrums. The artist now adds space. If his artwork were music, it’s as if we had been listening to it on a car radio, and now we’re hearing it live at Symphony Hall. We are in it.

A modernist totem stands in the center of the main gallery on a turquoise platform accented with orange. Colors — earth tones, eye candy — harmonize and snap. Painted triangles and triangular recesses stack up the sides; Cambronne highlights some of their edges with colorful rods that jut diagonally well beyond the sides of the structure. Those slanting rods surprise: Are they waving us in, or blocking our entry?

The artist enriches the installation with small details: A note on the wall, just an X with painted dots on its extremities, echoes the diagonals in the totem piece, as do lines on the floor. On opposing walls of the long, narrow, space, he hangs plastic cords from lime green ledges that arc out slightly. The cords, in white, black, yellow, and green arranged in asymmetric patterns, recall harp strings.


In the gallery’s loft space, Cambronne has excavated a previously covered grate on the floor. A painting surrounds it, burgundy with a corner square of deep purple. Step on it and look down into the grate: A sunny yellow void shines there, with a square of red velvet at the bottom. In a mythic counterpoint, it’s a hole to the totem’s peg, but unlike most holes, it glows. The tangy tones toy with the eye: The piece is several feet deep, but blink and it looks flat as a painting.


“Where What Is?” resonates with mathematical elegance, hitting several registers of perception. The title suggests a quest to locate something that cannot be found or identified. To that existential quandary, Cambronne’s installation, like a labyrinth, leads us on a path deeper within.

Panes of color and sound

Colors have distinct emotional tones, and Cambronne plays them off one another. At Drive-By Projects, Lynne Harlow also uses color to prompt reflection, but here it’s just one: a very specific pink Harlowe saw in the evening sky in Texas. She happened upon it again on a pink wall at Gropius House in Lincoln, the historic house museum designed by Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. Harlow, too, has tailored a work for its space, more straightforward than Cambronne’s but no less contemplative.

For her installation “Limitless and Lonesome,” Harlowe paints a warm pink rectangle on one of the gallery walls across from its storefront windows. She might have painted the entire wall, but instead she offers this pane of color, a window into a mellow, luminous space. Acoustic music accompanies the piece — melancholy, twangy, spacious. It’s inviting and soothing to settle into the long notes and easy rhythm, as shadows and reflections dance over the painting like fleeting memories and sentiments playing against the screen of the mind.

A few small works, haiku-like in their simplicity, are on view. The “For Savion Glover” series features a few bright, brass nail heads sticking out of plexiglass, evoking the sound of the tap dancer’s footsteps. For “Western Sun Meets the Air I” Harlowe affixes a small shelf of orange-pink plexiglass on a white backing; the edge of the glass looks dense with colored light. At the right time of day, the sun throws a reflection of that piece against a white curtain beside “Limitless and Lonesome,” and the painting whispers beyond its borders.


Raw materials at work

In his enigmatic and funny sculpture show at Distillery Gallery, Kirk Amaral Snow uses construction materials to evince human foibles. It’s not easy (and not always successful), because concrete, two-by-fours, and sawhorses prompt associations to building and growth, not humility. Still, Amaral Snow has some terrific successes.

“Holding This Moment” sets one sawhorse bracket over another in an X formation; both hold fast a small piece of wood, in a picture of our human tendency to hold tight to something that ultimately cannot be held. For “Infrastructure,” he leans a wall’s skeleton of studs precipitously against a single old crutch. Nothing looks broken, but Amaral Snow conjures threat and decay with a single gesture.

Blue tarp protects and it hides; Amaral Snow uses it in two pieces that reference architecture associated with churches.

In “Transept,” a tarp drops down the wall, seals over a horizontal metal beam, and unfurls onto the floor. “Spire” hits a similar note, but here the tarp wraps around an L-shaped steel structure. These pull us in with suggestions of concealment and reinvention, but feel unresolved. Is the artist trying to make a point about religion? Or is he simply investigating the tension between his materials? Either way, he has more work to do.



Where What Is?

At: Proof Gallery, 516 East 2nd St., South Boston, through Sept. 12. 617-702-2761,www.proof-gallery.com


At: Drive-By Projects,

81 Spring St., Watertown,

through Aug. 16. 617-835-8255,www.drive-byprojects.com


The Lonesome Crowded . . .

At: Distillery Gallery,

516 East 2nd St., South Boston, through Aug. 1 www.distillerygallery.com

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