Reimagining an urban landscape
The landscapes of cities change constantly, and maps are redrawn. Berlin is a dramatic example. After being bombed during World War II, the city was divided into two by the Berlin Wall. It became two cities, and the metaphorical locus of the Cold War. Then the wall came down, and Berlin was reborn.
Nancy Murphy Spicer, a former Boston artist now living in England, found her way around that city on her bike, guidebook in hand. Her show at Carroll and Sons, featuring small, riveting mixed-media paintings made on guidebook pages, draws parallels between one woman’s experience of a city and the mutable nature of the urban landscape.
The artist traced her serendipitous routes on the guidebook pages, then filled in those forms with blocks of flat color over a gray ground. She cut images from the book, leaving holes; occasionally, she painted over the bits she had excised, and reinserted them.
Her central colored forms are endearingly awkward. “Biking in Berlin 41” sports a large, vaguely trapezoidal orange field with a meandering block of olive green along the top, and a lantern shape collaged on the left. The cutouts here move us into illusionistic space: A few small cut-out rectangles at the bottom look like paving stones that turn the orange form into a portal.
Murphy Spicer has filled the top of “Biking in Berlin 23” with a photo from the guidebook that she didn’t paint over — it seems to depict a vaulted ceiling, in electric blue. She trimmed it to funnel into a winnowing chunk of chocolate brown below, like the sky pouring down to the Earth.
These little spatial tricks drop the viewer down a rabbit hole: from flat, abstract, symbolic reading — as of a map — to something more precarious and fanciful. Borders are constantly impinged. Figures pop up whimsically here and there, linking us to yet another visual language. The work is a record of Murphy Spicer’s experience wandering Berlin — and, as in any city, of building up, tearing down, and edges shifting.
Chris Baker works intimately with form, color, and the materiality of his medium. But the Maine artist, who has a show at Jane Deering Gallery in Gloucester, strives to eliminate the appearance of brushstrokes. He lays his paintings out in one of two formats, grid or columnar, paints sections with a brush, and then drags a trowel or palette knife over the still-wet paint.
The images remain, depicting the living room of his house, a chandelier at Hagia Sophia (an Istanbul museum), a Paris patisserie. But the smears and stutters of paint make the scenes hallucinatory. “Large Interior” has liquid light pouring into a room through several doors and spilling onto the wood floor in gleaming reflections. The sections are vertical, with paint pulled horizontally across them. Areas to the left and right of a central table dissolve to shimmers as the paint moves, but the table itself is mostly clean lines and planes. The contrast between that solid form and the sense that all else is melting into light around it is seductive and alarming.
For “Picnic,” Baker applies the technique to a beach scene, with several picnickers gathered around a large rock. Each figure gets a vertical section; some are more smeared than others, which adds psychological subtext. Color, too, deepens the narrative — rocks along the water appear in blue, orange, Kelly green, and the sand is mauve peach. Everything feels bright and heightened, but there’s a sense that brilliant as it is, it’s already over.
Artist Terra Fuller went to Morocco and studied carpet weaving with Mouhou Boussine and Zahra Ait Eshu. “Fallen Cave Paintings: Mouhou, Touria, Zahra,” at the Fort Point Arts Community Gallery is a display of delightful rugs by all three women (Fuller took the name Tou ria in Morocco), along with Fuller’s drawings and video documentary of her experience.
Boussine is a subsistence farmer, and Ait Eshu a cave-dwelling nomad. The women make tightly woven rugs with whatever is at hand. In addition to wool, they’ll unravel a sweater for thread, cut up old jeans, and shred a wedding dress to create these plush, vividly colored, wildly patterned carpets. They’re made for use, not for display.
Fuller’s rugs sport text and imagery, sometimes unfortunately goofy. Her mentors focus more on pattern. One untitled carpet by Ait Eshu features twining columns in turquoise, blue, and yellow that arc sharply, then dwindle. Another features both vertical and horizontal blocks of color — orange, white, red, black — creating an expanding and contracting visual rhythm.
Visitors are invited to take their shoes off and sink their feet into the lush carpets, and to sit to watch Fuller’s video, which lovingly portrays the cultures she assimilates with. It gets comical when her sister and a friend come to visit and have a menu of complaints about the cave-dwelling lifestyle.
But the rugs are the real lure. I’m not sure it’s fair to classify them as paintings, as the exhibition title does. That traps them in a rubric that has never particularly valued the domestic arts. They are lovely in themselves.
NANCY MURPHY SPICER:
Biking in Berlin
At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through Sept. 1. 617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net
CHRIS BAKER: INTERIOR VIEWS
At: Jane Deering Gallery,
18 Arlington St., Gloucester, through Aug. 26. 978-281-8051, www.janedeeringgallery.com
FALLEN CAVE PAINTINGS:
Mouhou, Touria, and Zahra
At: Fort Point Arts Community Gallery, 300 Summer St., through Aug. 30. 617-423-4299, www.fortpointarts.org
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.