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Spinning paint into gold in a show at HallSpace

David Fratkin’s Burble, 2016 urethane and other acrylic mediums.

Paint is the stuff of alchemy. The five abstract painters in “Painting Is Not a Good Idea,” organized by artist Jo Ann Rothschild at HallSpace, strive to spin straw into gold.

David Fratkin’s scrolls, nearly 13 feet long, unfurl in jewel tones onto the floor. He paints on plate glass, pressing carved blocks into it, then, astonishingly, peels the painting off and mounts it peeled side up. We’re looking at a reversed, inside-out version of what he saw as he painted, as if it were a print. His fascination with pattern turns pieces such as “Burble” labyrinthine. Spirals pull you in; great, floating orbs pull you up.


The other artists are descendants of Abstract Expressionists, but they make quieter, less declarative work, more content with itself.

“Sunset Park,” one of Emily Berger’s deceptively simple striped paintings on wood panel, exults in paint’s ability to be stubbornly physical yet ethereal and mystifying. Dark verticals bracket bands of deep blue, green, and translucent yellow-orange. That yellow-orange, so thin the wood grain winks beneath, is the picture of heat. Brushier swipes of blue and green remind us of paint’s tactility.

The contrast between paint as dream and paint as substance has biblical implications. Behold what a creator can make from nothing!

Colleen Randall’s “Immanence 4,” a rocky impasto, is more earthbound save for its crepuscular colors, tangerine and periwinkle. Here and there the paint grows thready, dissolving like spun cotton candy.

Inspired by her studio view of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Elizabeth Yamin makes formal and spatial works, with paint and pencil. These place us rather than transport us, but the space wittily convolutes. Rothschild’s own paintings likewise play with drawing and space, glimpsed through gestural mists of paint suggesting an inner world.

Like any alchemical process, painting is challenging. These artists spin different types of gold. Each in its own way glimmers.


Painting Is Not a Good Idea

At HallSpace, 950 Dorchester Ave., through Jan. 14.

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