Jodie Manasevit’s abstract canvases belong in the class of paintings that are simply about painting: color, space, gesture, picture plane. That can be off-putting if you like art that signifies something beyond itself, but don’t overthink her work. The smack of incandescent color and the delicious goopiness of paint jolt you. Rubrics fall away.
Art dealer Mario Diacono, still active at 89, has put together a show of Manasevit’s paintings at Ars Libri. Based on pictures I’d seen in e-mails, I came expecting to be swallowed up in great seas of color, but at less than 2 feet tall, these works are something to hold dear, rather than something to be engulfed by.
“Pink” feels bristling and alive. Touches of peach warm the light of the sweet-as-frosting pink surface. Small, busy downward brush strokes shimmer and hum. Then, in the bottom right, Manasevit adds a jazzy little pile-on of short horizontal strokes: yellow, rose, green, ocher. It’s an impudent breakout against that pink field.
Most of these paintings follow that format. A ground mottled with brushwork hints at deep, mysterious spaces, often immanent with brilliant color (that in itself feels like a contradiction — aren’t mysterious spaces supposed to be dark?). A small smash-up of other tones floats near the bottom, a figure on this ground. Sometimes that little brush stroke sandwich appears as if from behind parted curtains, other times it dances on the surface.
“Violet,” imbued with dusky gold, has sassy stripes of green and school-bus orange fringed with red and pink. In “Travel,” a luscious lipstick smear of rose and fuchsia punctuates a pea-soup mist of mustardy green.
The figure/ground issue this artist presents is less a spatial conundrum than one of existence itself. Consider the maxim about the fish that doesn’t realize it’s surrounded by water. In these paintings, Manasevit captures the moment that fish individuates. In a flash, the fish — that smash of colors — awakens and becomes discrete from its surroundings. A small glory.
But there I go, making meaning of paintings that are really only about painting.
JODIE MANASEVIT: GREEN
At Ars Libri, 500 Harrison Ave., through July 12. 617-357-5212, www.arslibri.com