JOHN O’REILLY, MARSDEN HARTLEY: Two Kindred Spirits
At: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 15. 617-262-0550, www .howardyezerskigallery.com
JALAL SEPEHR: Carpets Unbound
At: Khaki Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 10. 617-423-0105, www.khakigallery.net
MARJORIE KAYE: Infrastructure DAVID BOUCHARD: Encaustic Paintings
At: Galatea Fine Art, 460B Harrison Ave., through Oct. 30. 617-542-1500, www.galateafineart.com
In 2008, John O’Reilly, a master of graceful and slyly potent photomontage, went to Dogtown - long ago a neighborhood of Gloucester, now a woodsy area known for its boulders - to take pictures. He knew that Marsden Hartley, the restless Modernist painter, had spent time in Dogtown in the 1930s. Consequently, O’Reilly, whose works sometimes probe the more bruised stories of cultural history, made his “Dogtown Hartley Series.’’
Independent curator Trevor Fairbrother has put together “John O’Reilly, Marsden Hartley: Two Kindred Spirits,’’ a moving and provocative exhibit at Howard Yezerski Gallery, that highlights O’Reilly’s Dogtown series and other photomontages alongside spare, fevered drawings by Hartley, on loan from the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine.
The boulders play a big part in the works of both artists. Hartley’s pen-and-ink drawing depicting Dogtown, “Untitled. Subject: Rock, Walls, Twisted Trees, Blueberry Bushes,’’ sets the big rocks undulating in the middle of a scene buzzing with the tangled lines of foliage and the speckles of grass and berries.
O’Reilly, who breathtakingly shuffles shreds of art-historical imagery and personal narrative, here weaves his own photos of boulders with images of sculptural figures, such as a Michelangelo terra cotta in “Dogtown Hartley Series 1/24/09.’’ The figure is not perfectly clear, but you sense a shoulder, a haunch, as man struggles to emerge from stone.
In the forefront of O’Reilly’s virtuosically assembled “Dogtown Hartley Series, 10/29/09,’’ a man - whose legs and feet, clad in ballet slippers, might be from an old photo of Nijinsky, a regular player in this artist’s work - lies writhing before a jagged rock face. Above, ancient classical columns stand, fall, and meld seamlessly with the rock; a house topples into a William Morris textile design. A snapshot in a bottom corner captures young men on a dock, two of them shirtless - like the men in many of Hartley’s drawings.
That artist’s pieta, “Badly Bruised - Who Is He?’’ shows a small legion of square-shouldered, shirtless men cradling a nearly naked figure. This hangs beside O’Reilly’s own “Pieta’’ from 1995, in which the artist holds a naked Christ.
O’Reilly, who is in his early 80s, is gay, and he threads his works with homoerotic references borrowed from everything from Renaissance painting to porn. Hartley is thought to have been gay and closeted, and he certainly celebrated the brawn of the male body.
What Hartley here expresses in deft, simple, electric line drawings, and O’Reilly in lush photomontages, is the same: the suffering of flesh and psyche, the pain of sacrifice, and a mystical expression of vulnerability.
Iranian photographer Jalal Sepehr takes Persian carpets as his subject in “Carpets Unbound,’’ at Khaki Gallery. They show up everywhere in these lighthearted works: on roofs, under the wheels of cars and motorbikes, floating in water. The sharp images invite different readings of the rugs, which are common floor coverings in Iran - not the high-end specialty items they are here.
They’re magic carpets, making bridges between windows in “Knot Series - Do Panjareh (Two Windows)’’ or stretching over the rippling landscape outside a barn door in the luxuriant “Knot Series - Ghale.’’ It seems they could take us anywhere. At the same time, they are so intrinsic to Iranian culture that they might also signify any Iranian, liberated to imagine a life that cavalierly breaks the bounds of everyday duties. In “Water & Persian Rugs Series - Speed Boat,’’ one carpet floats by a speedboat dashing through crystal-clear water.
Sepehr has a keen sense of composition and narrative. Rugs drop from high windows; they show up catching beams of sunlight like jewels, and surrounded by darkness. In essence, they become protagonists in Sepehr’s visual fairy tales - beautiful, of course, but intrepid, too.
Marjorie Kaye constructs paintings out of jigsaw-puzzle-like pieces. They sprout off the wall of Galatea Fine Art in elongated, sinewy chunks, brightly colored. “Evolution Machine’’ is constructed of cutout shapes that look like ribbons of seaweed or dancers’ limbs that twist, buck, and whorl over each other in shades of orange, green, and yellow - painterly gestures jumping into three-dimensionality.
Most of these small works are crisp and organic. In a couple of them, instead of giving each cutout a distinct, flat hue, Kaye paints them all over with dappled colors - and in so doing loses clarity and pop. It’s as if she has camouflaged what she really ought to be highlighting.
Also at Galatea, David Bouchard paints in pigmented wax, known as encaustic, on paper. Then he chops up the paintings and reassembles the shards into collages. There’s a tension between the sharp-edged collage format and the mottled, abstract-expressionist quality of the encaustics that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.
In “Almost Touching,’’ Bouchard sets two biomorphic shapes, in swipes of green and brown, moving toward each other like God’s hand and Adam’s in the Sistine Chapel. The ground beneath features patches of rich gold and black. Yet it’s hard to dwell in any of the painterly passages, because they’re cut short. On the other hand, “Anima or Womanliness’’ features a series of curvaceous verticals, dark tones alternating with light, suggesting several dancers, each with her own mystery.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.