GLOUCESTER — Stand in the kitchen of the Jane Deering Gallery, in Deering’s home in the Annisquam neighborhood here, and gaze out toward the shed in the backyard. Blue fills the frame of the shed’s doorway — a deep, breathless sky blue that couldn’t possibly be contained within the confines of such a small structure.
Adin Murray’s 6-foot-square painting “Rayleigh Scattering,” hangs solo inside. It’s part of a refreshing group show, “Blue arrived, and its time was painted,” the rest of which is in Deering’s house (open by appointment).
Murray has painted a luminous sky dwarfing a sun-dried Australian landscape. That thin bottom fringe of auburn grass and trees effectively anchors the cerulean expanse because Murray has rendered it with near photo-realist care. Pearlescent clouds limned with violet and orange-gold throw an aura upward, which the sky swallows, and then grows bluer.
The show takes its name from “Azul,” a poem by Spaniard Rafael Alberti, and snippets of verse have been mounted on the wall throughout. The text in the shed mentions “ecstatic blue.” That’s the color of Murray’s sky.
Murray is a Cape Ann artist, and “Blue” mixes local with national and international talent. Chris Baker, of Maine and California, reimagines the Baroque masterpiece “Las Meninas” in his painting “Study After Velázquez.”
A cobalt glow lights up Velázquez’s shadowy recesses in the room where he depicted himself painting a young princess and her servants. Using a thin film of plastic as a kind of stencil, Baker delineates figures and paints within their contours, each a balance of sharp lines and tart, runny smudges. It’s disarmingly strange — garish, ghostly, and affectionate.
Most of the work here, while smart, is not as unnerving. Tom Fels made his cyanotype “Arbor 6.16,” by climbing up into a tree and holding up a 3-foot-tall piece of photographic paper, exposing it to the sun and the shadows of rustling leaves. The results evoke the touch and movement of a friendly breeze.
There’s plenty more. Esther Pullman’s photographs of architectural details create spaciousness, even in small settings, with angles and turns that make the eye pivot. Tess Jaray’s untitled abstract silkscreen of increasingly blue bars describing an inverted pyramid has a basic, flat form, but color you could fall into. All told, the show’s effect is clarifying and direct, like a cool dip on a sunny day.
Not just surface
Sculptor-turned-painter Ruth Mordecai’s exhibition at Trident Gallery nimbly revolves around a lexicon of forms: a moon, a sun, containers, a Jacob’s ladder. These basic shapes, along with a scrawling line, shuffle and recur throughout her abstract work. She freights them with everyday holiness.
In “Aleph-Bet/ Jonathan’s Wagon/ Home,” she collages a rectangle of brown paper near the bottom, from which a pink head-and-shoulders shape sprouts. This wagon sits low within a peaked, architectural outline, as Hebrew letters and other calligraphic gestures float around it, suggesting a halo or a rising prayer.
Mordecai paints with a physicality that made me want to close my eyes and run my hands over her art. Collaging, drawing into the paint, and roughing up the surface, she makes work as tactile as it is visual. Many of the pieces have titles such as “Between Painting and Sculpture.”
It’s not just surface. Mordecai’s forms have weight. The vessel in “Container Series #1,” pale with black contours, almost thrusts itself off the canvas with two fist-like baubles of paint pushing toward a corner, and a collaged strip of red at the bottom.
Her palette often starts with black and white, as in the monotypes in the “Seven Series/ Stacks” group. They depict a central form with two horizontal passages at the bottom, topped by several vertical strokes — like a birthday cake with several candles. In smoky, smeary black ink, the effect is of an elemental, grounded form, threatened with dissolution. That’s intriguing, because her paintings have such solidity, as if their subject matter is everything that endures.
Some notable artists
Flatrocks Gallery honors some notable artists who have lived along the north coast of Gloucester with “From the North Villages,” largely featuring 20th-century work. The group includes the delirious colorist, modernist painter Ralph Coburn, who breaks landscapes and leaves down to pixels of color on graph paper. Sometimes you can still read the picture, as in “Folly Cove,” and other times it’s just about color and pattern, as in the dazzler “Autumn Leaf #7.”
Across the gallery, the late Erma Wheeler’s watercolors, such as the brilliant, jagged “Quarry Garden,” make a wonderful, woozy counterpoint to Coburn’s precision. Late figurative sculptor Walker Kirtland Hancock, best known for his Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, has a lovely light touch here with “Under Water Tag,” small bronze sculptures of swimmers suspended on nylon thread.
Painter Vincent Castagnacci sharpens and accents his brushy, monochromatic paintings with spare gestures along the peripheries, as in “Gloucester Summer ’95: #VII,” in a bold green with tendrils and stripes of blue, black, and brown. Ah, summer. No better time to be in Gloucester.
BLUE ARRIVED, AND ITS TIME WAS PAINTED
At: Jane Deering Gallery, 18 Arlington St., Gloucester, through Sept. 1.
RUTH MORDECAI: New Works on Paper
At: Trident Gallery, 189 Main St., Gloucester, through Sept. 1.
FROM THE NORTH VILLAGES
At: Flatrocks Gallery,
77 Langsford St., Gloucester,
through Aug. 24.