Rico Gatson’s commanding paintings at Samson pulse with geometric abstraction, but they’re not all exclusively abstract. He builds some around archival images related to African-American history, and color-codes his bold patterns with sociopolitical meaning: black and white, or the red, green, and black associated with African nationalism, punched up with yellow. Colors beam out, but the black is roughly textured, sometimes tough, sometimes shiny: It pulls us in.

Many works are completely abstract. Gatson’s “Panel Painting” series leans against the wall, each more than 8 feet tall and less than a foot wide, each thrumming with a different crackling pattern. Some have a Modernist chastity; in others, colors busily bristle, buzz, and overlap.


The paintings accrue into a percussive, gritty, and celebratory symphony. Gatson achieves a similar effect in “Untitled (Target, Ripples, and Zig Zags),” a rhythmic grid alternating black-and-white patterns with colorful ones.

Imagery and text can argue with or outweigh abstraction, but here they take up the dance. The black, block-lettered words “Wonder and Light” are so organic to the pattern in one of the panel paintings that you might miss them.

In “Untitled (Three Diamonds),” concentric, black-and-white diamonds surround three black-and-white archival images: enslaved black women, picking through cotton; a street view of the 1965 Watts riots, smoke billowing; and Black Panthers at a 1968 rally to free Huey Newton, a founder of the group, imprisoned for killing a policeman.

With the brash pattern around them, the grainy images read like distant history. Yet they anchor the painting; the diamonds reverberate from them, as if the pictures were stones dropped into a pond, setting off splashes and ripples.

All of Gatson’s abstractions echo with history. Like society itself, his patterns react to specific images and events. Or they tumble along a generation removed, not ready for the next big news, because who ever is? But they will respond to and integrate it, because society always does.


RICO GATSON: Power Lines

At Samson, 450 Harrison Ave., through July 17. 617-357-7177, www.samsonprojects.com