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Galleries | Cate McQuaid

Myths, velocity, shadows evoked in local galleries

Mary Frank’s “Meeting at the Water.”
Mary Frank’s “Meeting at the Water.”(GALLERY KAYAFAS)

Mary Frank, in her multimedia show at Gallery Kayafas, escorts viewers into the electric realm of myth and archetype. She doesn’t refer to familiar stories or idols, but she freights her lucid imagery with mystery, making her own myths — or, even better, letting us make ours from her pictures.

In her early 80s, Frank is best known for her figurative sculptures crafted from thin sheets of clay. The one on view here, “Arching Woman,” curves in a tortuous backbend. Her hair cascades down, and her serene face peels away to reveal another face beneath, torn and hollowed out. The figure’s mask calls to our many selves, her posture to our struggles.

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The show leads us through Frank’s paintings, painted with a loose brush, in which landscapes and nature coalesce into symbol, and on to the main event, her photographs. She recycles old pieces, cut paper, glass, and bits of nature into collages and assemblages, which she records with her camera.

“Sentient” depicts a rough and flattened clay figure, mouth open and eyes wide, against a cobalt backdrop. Grief-stricken, I thought. A stone lintel in the foreground frames her. She might be sitting at Stonehenge in the deepest of dusks, but she’s no tourist. At a gateway in time and space, she faces transformation.

There’s a tinge of Picasso’s animism and Julie Taymor’s puppetry in “Meeting at the Water,” although Frank is less brash than Picasso and more succinct than Taymor. She has fashioned sticks into a two-legged figure with a burro’s head. The creature raises its arms and gazes down at a rock face drawn over with men in boats. The piece has a ripple effect: We look at art of a magical figure looking at art. Each image is an opening.

At about 2 feet wide, the photos feel intimate, as if they depict something taking place in the theater of our own imagination — a glimpsed scene rich with portent, an imprint left in the sand that only we see — and conjure private sentiments, such as the persistence of loss, and the call to keep on making and connecting.

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Brewster’s enlivened landscapes

We don’t tend to think of landscape paintings as having velocity, but David Brewster’s muscular, glinting compositions, now up at Chase Young Gallery, open wide and tumble together with magnetic urgency. Brewster applies paint mostly with rollers and his own hands, making marks that rush, jut, and smear. The dance of his gestures makes them feel transitory, even though they’re captured in paint.

“Griswoldville Canal” has an icy quality — sharp, translucent, melting. Colors are pungent. Pale green and ivory ribbons arc through the sky. Blue hills shimmer in the distance with an impudent green wedge stamped between them. Utility poles stick up like needles, and thin, dark cables thread overhead. In the middle ground, blocky buildings look iridescent in aqua and purple, and the reflective canal in the foreground opens up the sky again.

It’s a breathless, commanding painting, turning a site we might ignore into something moving and alive.

Rossmer’s personal pedestals

Gabrielle Rossmer’s sculptures at HallSpace consider the pedestal. More than just a support, the base, for Rossmer, is integral to the art object. She seeks out the tension between stability and mobility, and to do that she imbues these lower, columnar parts of her works with tonal energy, soaking them in paint.

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It’s as if they’re warming up, still solid but a launching pad and incubator for what sits on top of them. In “Brown-eyed Woman,” the bottom piece runs with juicy green and blue. It rises to another base, dark and turned, like a large finial. The small head and shoulders of an alert woman rise from the top layer, neck slightly craned, as if she, too, is wondering where this is leading.

Pieces such as this make light parallels between the forms of a sculpture and a body. Others leave the figurative references out. All, though, turn the staid forms of traditional sculptural presentation into something generative, as if traditional structure is an egg on the verge of hatching.

Tolan goes beyond the frame

Hilary Tolan paints over and elaborates on shadows in her landscape photographs in “Shadowland” at Kingston Gallery. Tending to the shadows, she loads them with unknown meaning. They seep and crawl. Dark surprises lurk.

In “Wall Shadow,” black spreads from a vertical crevice in a red rock edifice, parting around stony holes but otherwise ominously traveling in rivulets left and right. In “Boulder,” Tolan nearly takes over the rock with her black veins and contours, edging the image from photograph toward painting.

The effects can be extraordinarily subtle. In “Shadowline,” she draws a thread of black beyond the edge of a boulder, as if tracing an outline of what the rock once was. Sometimes they’re too subtle; you can’t tell what’s paint and what’s photo. Mostly, Tolan toys with the misconception that photographs depict reality, and posits that there’s another, more shadowy layer of existence we rarely notice.

Mary Frank : Today Is Yesterday’s Tomorrow

At Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 28. 617-482-0411, www.gallerykayafas.com

David Brewster : Power Line

At Chase Young Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 28. 617-859-7222, www.chaseyounggallery.com

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Gabrielle Rossmer : Rigid Mobility

At HallSpace, 950 Dorchester Ave., through Nov. 28. 617-288-2255, www.hallspace.org

Hilary Tolan : Shadowland

At Kingston Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 29. 617-423-4113, www.kingstongallery.com


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