PROVIDENCE — Spindly, drooping hands, mesmerizing patterns, sumptuous cloth, and animation all play a part in “Nothing Ritually,” the fourth and most collaborative project from painters Derek G. Larson and Marc Mitchell, now at GRIN.
On the face of it, the show expertly weaves pulsing, snappy digital aesthetics into the ever-expanding orbit of painting, which these days wraps itself around 3-D and textiles as well as flat screens. The works have a heady, go-get-’em charm underscored with rough edges (and sometimes, those scrawny soft sculpture hands) hinting that all that high-wattage may be prone to burning out.
Mitchell and Larson build “Nothing Ritually” on a scaffolding of ideas much bigger than painting’s rubric. They position the show as a seven-act play, titled “Dazzle Ships,” for the black-and-white camouflage used to confuse enemy warships during World War I.
Each work represents an act in the play, and the artists name the works after lesser-known 20th-century American plays that touch on themes of economic hardship, war, love, and religion.
In Percival Wilde’s 1915 one-act, “The Finger of God,” a one-time con man flirts with returning to his illicit ways, until a young woman — who may be God’s messenger — provokes him to remain on the straight and narrow. Or does she?
The corresponding painting sets a long, stuffed-satin orange finger in a circle, like a wreath, atop a scruffy collision of patterns — Escher-like cubes, pink polka dots, shards of gold leaf on silver. It’s at once bright and smudgy, festive and droningly repetitive, and that creepy orange finger can, like the play, suggest wholeness or a never-ending cycle of redemption and debacle.
The artists tease out conflicts of the American psyche, in which razzle-dazzle dreams of success butt up against struggle and sunken hopes. At the base of it, though, these pieces work as dexterous abstractions; that’s why they can contain multitudes.
DEREK G. LARSON + MARC MITCHELL: NOTHING
At GRIN, 60 Valley St., Providence, through Sept. 10. 401-272-0796, www.grinprovidence.com