Howardena Pindell often creates art that unpacks and examines American values and assumptions. Having exhibited for more than 40 years in the United States and internationally, she makes dramatically varied work, from abstract paintings to alluringly textured mixed-media works to pieces that are laced with blunt political commentary. One fascinating body of work she has returned to again and again throughout her career, which has not been spotlighted in this country before, is now on view at Howard Yezerski Gallery.
Pindell calls the pieces “video drawings.” She makes a drawing of arcing arrows, points, and numbers on transparent acetate, positions it in front of a sports event on television, and, when the time is right, shoots a color photograph. When she started this project, in 1973, she was one of a handful of artists looking critically at the medium of television, and its visual frame on the world.
“Video Drawings: Swimming,” made in the 1970s, stops the swimmer mid-dive into a backstroke. The image blurs, the pool glows blue, and those arrows, points and numbers slide around the athlete like tadpoles. Some of them seem to chart his movement, or to measure its force and velocity. You can see the sliver-thin vertical bands of color distinct to old television sets.
More recent pieces, such as “Video Drawings: Track,” illustrate how sports television has changed with more nimble and up-close camerawork. In this close-up of a runner on the block, slews of inked arrows rush down toward her, depicting, perhaps, the athlete’s rising adrenaline before the starter’s pistol goes off. On this digital TV, the color bands have given way to pixels.
In the same way that a slow-motion replay breaks down the components of an athlete’s technique, Pindell, in her still image, breaks down the components of the moving picture and reveals what makes it so riveting: form and color; movement and perhaps emotion as charted by the layer of drawing. The drama remains, but Pindell offers us the opportunity to dissect how we look at it, and the grip it has upon us.
Gallery landscape to change
Howard Yezerski and Ellen Miller, both prominent longtime Boston art dealers, have announced plans to partner. As Ellen Miller Gallery’s Newbury Street lease runs out this summer, she will join Yezerski at his gallery at 460 Harrison Avenue under the new name Miller Yezerski Gallery. In addition, they’ll open a project space across Thayer Street at 450 Harrison Avenue, on the third floor.
Painter Gail Spaien, in one of the final shows at Ellen Miller Gallery, takes a highly conceptual yet deeply painterly approach to landscape, in patterned abstractions that strive to evoke the inner experience of gazing out at nature — serenity, a sense of one’s place on this earth.
Each of the four pieces in her “Venice” series, each roughly 5 feet square give or take a half foot, has a huge ball hovering in the center, patterned with overlapping circles that could be petals. They look as if they might ruffle in a strong breeze. Each shimmers in a particular color scheme: “Venice 1” features a blue ball, with petals in blues, ivories, greens, and grays. The background could be a sky, in breaths of graying peach and pale turquoise. Other “Venice” paintings sport painterly horizontal bars in the background.
The calming quality of space in landscape can be read in the airiness of these fluttery spheres. Yet their imposing size, their form, and indeed their visual complexity, make them more like objects of contemplation than landscapes that invite the eye to roam.
Life’s telling ravages
Sandra Allen’s exacting graphite drawings of sections of tree trunks at Carroll and Sons are intimately detailed and full of personality. At the same time, because these tree images are cropped and it’s so easy to lose yourself in the detail, they also lean toward abstraction.
In “Mantle,” the bark peels off the tree in great folds and into what looks, at the center, almost like a papery blossom, with a moth crawling along the side. Portions of the bark throw off light like a mirror. The image of molting is almost violent, yet with every gesture, lively. “Succor” depicts a gnarly tree with a branch cut off; the bark surrounding the lost branch sags like aging skin. This arboreal section has a smoother top half, and a bottom half overgrown with rougher bark and lichen or moss. These drawings capture the simple ravages of living and growing. They could be portraits of wise elders.
More images of nature appear in the gallery’s project room, where Wendy Richmond has strewn boxy video monitors on the floor, each with videos of the artist kicking over stacks of rocks she has come across on parkland in Maine. There are 80 short videos, strung together in eight sequences, so these little takedowns rattling throughout the gallery always seem new.
The toppling of the cairns erases manmade marks left along otherwise unspoiled beachfront. While it’s a little bit shocking — someone made those rock piles! — it’s thrilling, too, to see their destruction, and watch the little tags of ego vanish along the sand.
For more information:
GAIL SPAIEN: New Paintings
At: Ellen Miller Gallery, 38 Newbury St., through April 13. 617-536-4650, http://www.ellenmillergallery.com
SANDRA ALLEN: Trunks
through April 13
WENDY RICHMOND: Rock TVs through April 27
At: Carroll and Sons,
450 Harrison Ave. 617-482-2477, http://www.carrollandsons.net
Cate McQuaid can be reached at cate