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In sculptor's hands, prosaic plywood becomes elegant art

Mario Kon's wall-mounted wood sculptures provoke a daydream of the artist, a dangerous glint in his eye, shredding plywood into a wood chipper or hacking it up with an ax. He glories in all the ways you can shred, strafe, and dig into plywood, which has already been torn apart and glued and compressed back together. He revels in all the textures he can create. In his Paul-Bunyan-size show of more than 30 pieces at Locco Ritoro Gallery, Kon tears plywood apart and refashions it in large, elegantly designed pieces.

The artist's fascination with surfaces draws you close, but the brawny, almost violent quality of their making may push you back. He went at ''Double Loop" with a circular cutting tool and a more delicate gouge. The circles, carved out of an undulating wave across the center, have an oddly earthy effervescence. Above and below, he streaks the wood with vertical cuts, tearing off the surface in slender strips: It looks like a downpour.

In the more recent work, Kon has been making his sculptures waffle and float delightfully off the wall. ''Flextuation" folds in and out, accordion-style, with its long vertical slats carved, gouged, and painted roughly in red and black.

Many of his pieces seem to try to solve geometry problems: Angles, planes, and patterns fill them. But lately Kon has surrendered to structures that evoke smoke more than building blocks. ''Radioactive Timeless" hangs on brackets a foot out from the wall. It's a spindly, crisscrossing ribbon of plywood, dancing over and around itself like a tangled vine, in petal-like licks. He seared the wood to a velvety brown and edged it with sky blue.

Most of Kon's sculptures are insistently massive. This ethereal turn is a great step, introducing a fey insouciance into his ordinarily lumberjack sensibility.

'Playground' art
Sharon Kaitz always anchors her abstract paintings in gestures that remind us of something else. ''The Heart's Playground," her new show at Allston Skirt, starts in the playground, with chalky scrawls on the blacktop: the hopscotch grid, circles, scratches. There's a muted, ''Lord of the Flies" quality to the playground: It's where kids socialize, bond, and conquer on a field of jungle gyms and jump ropes.

Kaitz goes after the emotional pulp of that experience in her paintings, and often she can get too pulpy, with febrile tones and built-up drips, so that she loses her reference point. The best works here are the sparest, a series of three concrete-gray paintings marked up with black-and-white crayon drawings. One of these, ''The Heart's Playground No. 6," holds its center with a black circle and white one, drawn over smeared erasures. White paint drips down like rain, and awkward white and black columns of horizontal lines run up one side. This piece, with its wipeouts and redos, captures the longing and recrimination of life on the playground.

There's a sweet little show in the Mini Skirt, the gallery's back room. The art in ''My Back Pages: A Library Show!" is spotty, but the setting is irresistible. The low light of table lamps draws you in to a space lined with shelves, each covered with artists' books. There's a card catalog that employs the Dewey decimal system, and visitors are welcome to pick up the books and read them. Highlights include Kim Pashko's ''Terrestrial Book," filled with bristling ink drawings colliding with smooth, colored planes, and Linda Price-Sneddon's ''Dirty Little Clouds," which features comically sexualized weather systems.

Hunting critique misfires
Elif Uras's ''Redland" painting at Mario Diacono at Ars Libri unfortunately recalls a piece Andy Cross had up there last summer, ''The Wheel Is Broken but the Revolution Is Still Intact." Both shuffle traditions of romantic landscape with contemporary social concerns. Both skew perspective and pull in historical references so we don't quite know where, or when, we are. Both use loose brushwork and a faux naive painting style.

''Redland" examines a romanticized version of gun culture, with the interior of a lodge opening out through the fireplace into the woods. People are hunters and prey. Human heads hang as trophies over the mantelpiece. Rifles point everywhere, including out at the viewer. The bucolic beauty of the setting is disturbed by a fire-red sky and the aggressive witlessness of the people in the scene.

Uras succeeds in portraying guns as bad; it would be hard to fail at that. But ''Redland" simplistically scolds hunters and hunting as the root of violence.

Uras and Cross would have done well mounted in the same show -- although Diacono only does solo shows. In two such similar exhibitions within a few months of each other, though, Uras comes off looking like a poorly reheated Cross.

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