Artist TJ Kelley III’s first curatorial project, “Your Ticket Out” at the Distillery Gallery, looks at escape routes, pressure-relief valves, and bunkers in which we hide from our everyday responsibilities. The show is no walk in the park; anxiety often bubbles through it.
The strongest work plays with abstraction. Kristin Texeira, who confesses in the exhibition brochure that J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories” has been her solace, gives her geometric abstractions distinctly narrative titles, such as “One of Salinger’s characters at a bar dressed for a Simon and Garfunkel concert using phrases like ‘frankly’ and ‘the fact of the matter is. . .”
That moniker puckishly imbues abstraction with portraiture: the central black rectangle is the Salinger character; a little stovepipe atop might be a preciously jaunty cap. A hand-drawn grid beneath becomes a goatee, and the terracotta slope at the bottom, a shoulder.
Kyle Falzone’s compellingly awkward works share Texeira’s penchant for pushing abstraction into story. In “Damn Ass Rock,” it’s the Sisyphus myth. A figure made of gray blocky forms hefts a boulder; his knee swells; and his foot is on a skateboard. Falzone places a rock on a small table below the painting. It dramatizes our hero’s burden and at the same time deflates it. To us, it’s no boulder.
Falzone’s and Kelley’s works nod to Barry McGee’s brand of street-flavored assemblage. Kelley’s wall piece “Face to the Wind,” made of found wood, text, and painting, has a jutting slope like a skateboard ramp. Of all the works here, it’s the most carefree, as if Kelley’s taking flight from the comfort of his studio.
Several artists catalog their lives. Chelsea Teta’s “Safe Spaces” drawings detail domestic retreats — a candle emblazoned with “for luck and love;” “The Gilmore Girls” on DVD. Paige Mulhern’s “Fibers of my Sole,” depicting single socks, results from a childhood obsession. Such pieces are twee; the sweetness outweighs the anxiety behind them.
Elsewhere, in Eben Haines’s paintings, men in their underwear stand ominously on chairs. Here, the ticket out begins to look suicidal.
Maybe there is no escape. For artists, making art may itself be a ticket out, but it’s also a ticket deeper in.
What part does color play in how we recognize pattern? Ellen Waitzkin, in her photo collages at MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics, digitally inverts color photos of sunbathers and swimmers at the Cape Cod National Seashore to find what happens to our pattern tracking.
To get a feel for color inversion, picture a color film negative. The blues become yellow; the greens go red. Ocean water is gold and fuchsia, with black foam. It has retinal allure, but it feels terribly wrong — as if the sea has heated to a simmer.
Waitzkin matches color-inverted prints with ordinary ones. The diptych “Facing the Wave” features a mirror image. Green water on one side meets neon pink water on the other. Pale sand intersects with sand of intense aqua blue. Beach umbrellas and bathing suits glare on both sides. She creates a formal pattern with the mirror image, but the oppositional tones make that pattern hard to reconcile.
The artist demands a lot of the viewer’s eye. Pattern is abstraction, which Waitzkin attempts to build with scenes we automatically identify as people in a landscape. She inverts color to trip us into an abstract view, but she continues to compare that with what we’re used to. Grabby as her inverted tones are, they also push us away — there’s just too much contrast. These works feel as if she’s testing a hypothesis, and hasn’t yet found her way to a solution.
Viewing ‘Big Picture’
“Big Picture III,” an annual show staged by Fort Point Arts Community, has a lot of worthy art.
Is size enough to base an exhibit upon? Small works have an enchanting, jewel-like quality; you choose to enter their world. But big art confronts and engulfs. A lot of it in one place can overwhelm. Juror Leonie Bradbury, director and curator at Montserrat College of Art Galleries, chose well.
I gravitated to a selection of organic abstractions, including Martin Berinstein’s photograph “Happenstance Series.” Soap bubbles, I’d guess: Iridescent, interlocking, transparent walls in a fluid network, some distant and foggy, some crisp, and a sense of ever-expanding space.
Nearby, T.D. Heavican’s mixed-media drawing “The Next Best Thing” resembles finely veined and cracked marble. Look closely and you’ll see, nesting among the fissures, cocoon sacs filled with emoticons: comical seeds of expression, seeping from under the surface. Dorothea Van Camp’s monoprint “Entangled 12” wafts with undulating, feathery patterns in black, beige, and white; when layered, they take on a gossamer shimmer.
Stephen Sheffield’s “Self Portrait as a Man,” a photomontage in a grid, depicts Depression-era men in suits wearing award ribbons. As if cut into a film in quick edits, images of men running in the woods scatter through the piece. In the center stands the artist, also wearing a ribbon, also stiff and stern. At his belly, he has placed the visage of a werewolf, fierce and sad, as if wanting to be tamed, but knowing he never can be.
Your Ticket Out
At Distillery Gallery, 516 East 2nd St., South Boston
Through Jan. 30, www.distillerygallery.com
At the Beach: Color Symmetries
At MIT Center for Theoretical Physics, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
Through Aug. 31.
Big Picture III
At Atlantic Wharf Gallery, 290 Congress St.,
Through Feb. 29.
617-423-4299, www.fortpointarts.org/posts/atlantic-wharfCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.