Death and sex drive the two inaugural shows at Miller Yezerski Gallery, the joint venture of longtime Boston art dealers Ellen Miller and Howard Yezerski in the space previously occupied by Howard Yezerski Gallery. Sculptor Jim Tellin has been in Yezerski’s stable for years; painter Ariel Freiberg is new to both gallerists.
Tellin, 83, begins his meditation on mortality with a piece he made in 1962, “Si Muero.” The title refers to Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem “Farewell,” which opens “If I die,/ leave the balcony open.” Tellin frames the melancholy piece like a painting, in a sky blue box fronted by a glass panel, upon which he penned in white those lines in Spanish. Inside, a pink clothespin clipped to a gray line reads as figural or phallic — strong, straight, fastened to life. Yet the intimation of death cannot be escaped.
Other pieces date to this year and last. The conversation between sculpture and painting abides — Tellin paints his wood fluidly, in a way that arises organically from the wood grain — but now that force of life represented by the clothespin has given way to a louder chorus of loss, in visions of ghosts, skulls, and empty chairs.
“Wood Construction #201” centers on a blue block with black holes bored near the top, like eye sockets. Like “Si Muero,” it has a blue frame. A flare of white spans the frame, recalling the white text in the early work. The drifty colors, the brushwork, and the use of negative space all imbue this piece with a delicious breeziness — until those empty eyes pin you down.
Bookending the show with poetry, Tellin posts Philip Larkin’s poem about aging, “High Windows,” which ends: “The sun-comprehending glass,/ And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows/ Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.”
The exhilaration of Tellin’s palette in the face of death begins to make sense — nothing, in the form of deep blue air, sounds ravishing and terrifying. “Wood Construction #209 (High Window)” features two wood panels. The larger one sports flat sky blue in the middle, looking like windowpanes, surrounded by the flow of glimmering blue paint over wood grain, like light on water. An unpainted, worn, scuffed plank hangs at its side. The high window of age provides perspective. As we wear down, suffer loss, and face death, the sky, the paint, and the connections we make may feel all the more alive.
Freiberg models her paintings on heraldry. Rather than using griffins and swords as imagery, she employs stiletto-heeled shoes and fierce-looking gardening implements. “Identical Twins” depicts orange-patterned shoes with their spiky heels pointing out to either side. The handles of shears nest inside, and their blades spread menacingly above the toes of the shoes.
The artist infuses the traditional codes of patriarchal authority in a coat of arms with symbols of female sexual power represented by the shoes, It’s a bit heavy-handed. Vagina dentata feels so ho-hum at this point. The gardening tools make the mix more intriguing: They’re sharp, but they foster growth and nourishment. Freiberg has explored feminine identity in her work before, and her message gets more and more honed. Rakes, trowels, and shears may be her cutting edge.
“Morphology,” a terrific exhibit at Fountain Street Fine Art, pairs Kay Hartung’s burbling, luminous mixed-media encaustic paintings and Jodi Colella’s textile sculptures. The concept here — microorganisms, cells, and the like — is secondary to how well made the art is, and how well matched the artists.
Colella’s glittering “Impulse,” a nerve cell taller than 6 feet, has a spiny axon of coiled copper wire and dendrites of knotted and frayed mint-green fishing rope. That tangle of fraying rope echoes the quivering green-gold and turquoise fibers that halo the smoky, floating blue cells in Hartung’s dreamy “Cell Motion 1.”
In her “Metacell” series, floating with globules, Hartung avails herself of encaustic’s rapturous colors, and the layering that fills such works with deep, murky space. Colella’s “Blast,” a burly mass of felt nodules in reds and golds, is the picture of burgeoning. It could be the 3-D equivalent of Hartung’s orbs.
There’s threat and whimsy in Colella’s work. Hartung walks a narrower line, sticking to the strictly gorgeous. Gorgeous alone, without a little spice or humor, can grow repetitive and go flat in large doses. “Morphology” has just the right balance.
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has a strong crafts program. Several of the standouts at last summer’s Boston Young Contemporaries juried show of work by graduate students at art schools throughout New England came from there. Soprafina Gallery has edited down the school’s thesis show to a few exceptional works. Most memorable: Kelly Jean Conroy’s delicate and gothic jewelry, which combines mother-of-pearl with elements from dead birds; Robert L. Greene’s life-size figure made from hundreds of odd sticks of teak, in which chaos coalesces into form; and Zac Cheng’s tall felt sculpture “Splatter,” featuring a baby emerging from the blue corona of a water splatter.
KAY HARTUNG, JODI COLELLA: Morphology
At: Fountain Street Fine Art, 59 Fountain St., Framingham,
through June 23. 508-879-4200, www.fountainstreetfineart.com
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS DARTMOUTH COLLEGE OF VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS 2013 MFA THESIS EXHIBITION
At: Soprafina Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through June 30. 617-728-0770, www.soprafina.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.