“I left New York for Massachusetts farm country in part to live the locavore life, defined mainly as eating locally, sustainably, and organically,” writes photographer Holly Lynton in her artist’s statement. “What I hadn’t anticipated is how it is more often than not an extension of people’s spiritual lives.”
Lynton’s spellbinding color photographs at Miller Yezerski Gallery of farm life in the Pioneer Valley convey an elemental connection to animals, the earth, and ritualized agricultural practices, from sheering sheep to curing tobacco. The imposing, often tense physicality of the men, women, and animals and the incidentally dramatic lighting turn barns and compost heaps into stages for conflict, surrender, and transfiguration.
Art history echoes through these images, which recall Depression-era photographs of struggling farm families and gestures from Renaissance narrative paintings. “Sienna, Turkey Madonna, Shutesbury, MA” depicts a young woman gathering turkeys on a tabletop — apparently for slaughter, if the feathers flying overhead are an indication. She tilts her head as Mary does in works by Leonardo, Dürer, and others to gaze on the infant Jesus. She embodies tenderness and resolve.
Smoke used to cure tobacco billows through barns, turning men into shadows. The steep composition of “Lift, Hadley, MA,” as one worker passes tobacco leaves up to another through light-infused smoke, recalls WPA-era murals of steelworkers, or paintings of Christ being brought down from the cross.
In “Shedding Light, Amherst, MA,” the dark, rickety silhouette of a barn lit from behind could be a metaphor for a frail mortal undergoing enlightenment. All of Lynton’s farm images carry such freight: Life is a struggle filled with love and purpose, and therein lies grace.
Yana Payusova’s droll paintings and ceramic sculptures, also at Miller Yezerski, tell another story: one of busy, bumbling, chaotic community. Some canvases revisit her life growing up in Russia. “Tea Party” depicts, in her wry, cartoony style, a mother and three kids in a cramped kitchen that Payusova has jammed into a porcelain teacup. In the bustling “The Garden” she riffs on Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”
Payusova has crafted and painted dozens of stoneware heads, artfully displayed to convey a chatty jumble. They grin, holler, and ogle. Each piece has its own broad personality: Sad “Konstantine” wears rabbit ears, and knowing “Igor” holds a cigarette between plump lips. But as a whole, the installation describes a community as peanut gallery, watching and commenting.
Bahar Yurukoglu is a masterful manipulator of light, using mostly just panes of Plexiglas and available sun. She had an installation in the 2013 deCordova Biennial in which she projected videos of her colorful photographs over walls stocked with jutting sheets of bright Plexiglas.
Her new photos at Beth Urdang Gallery are dazzling geometric abstractions in which sunlight plays and sparkles, and which can fool the eye about what’s flat and what has volume.
Reflections and shadows mingle with the colored panes in pieces such as “Neoscape XVI, Salt Flats.” I found myself trying to piece together the photo’s spatial geometry as amber intersected with aqua, and one or the other cast a purple shadow.
The colors are as sumptuous as fresh-picked berries; they’re eye pleasers. But even a piece with less color, such as “Neoscape III, Diamond Crusted Life,” glistens with mystery. Here, almost all the Plexiglas is clear. A small rectangle of purple leads us into the image from the left. Is that a mirror on the right, reflecting the purple, or is it another sheet of Plexi with a small purple pane behind it? Between, rays of light puddle and dash over wedges of shadow.
Not knowing exactly how this artist creates her images is part of the satisfaction of looking at them. Unlike paint, light and shadow are elusive; they’re tricksters. Yurukoglu knows how to craft them, with few tools, into magic.
Worth stopping for
Cody Justus paints a strange landscape. In “Mileage,” his show of abstract paintings at the Hallway Gallery, each title has a place name. What does “JP, MA (#1)” say about Jamaica Plain? It’s a large, white circle within a blue square. A horizontal band of yellow, red, blue, and green crosses it, not quite reaching the circle’s edges. Midway through, the band vanishes, and watery colors dribble below the gap.
Justus’s paintings reference the clean geometries of Malevich and Mondrian, and tune into signage. “Saugus, MA” is road-sign green, striped with white, with a yellow “M” creeping in on the left. At the top, a truncated white oval has been smeared and dripped with hints of paint. Like many of the works here, it’s slightly askew on the canvas.
The suggestion of signs, of the road, creates a tension with the experience of looking at a painting. Whiz by, or get absorbed. Go, or stop.
These are worth stopping for. The colors in “JP, MA (#1),” the diametrical line that isn’t quite a diameter, the lovely, whispery, dribbles at that gap — I saw that and thought, “Of course! JP!” Justus’s succinct, evocative paintings point us toward our own imaginations and associations. And we’re off on a trip.
BAHAR YURUKOGLU Neoscapes
At: Beth Urdang Gallery,
129 Newbury St., through June 28. 781-264-1121, www.bethurdang
At: The Hallway Gallery,
66a South St., Jamaica Plain, through June 30.