Exhibits blend visual panache, a sense of history
Carl Ostendarp’s “Belle Island’’ wall painting at Carroll and Sons put me in mind of lolling on a raft in the Caribbean, idly contemplating Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism - not a bad situation to be in.
Ostendarp and his wife, sculptor Gail Fitzgerald, have collaborated on “Plasti-Kool II,’’ their sequel to a similar, smaller project they put together in New York last summer. Ostendarp has painted this wall in two tones of blue, a warm turquoise beneath a pale blue, with the eye-level dividing line rising and dipping like the sea. On a wintry day, the gallery glows.
The piece is no mere seascape. It’s a snappy mid-20th-century art history lesson. Ostendarp designed it on his computer, inputting the gallery’s dimensions and the viscosity of paint to come up with one of his trademark “drip’’ works. In his paintings, Jackson Pollock made many drips on a smaller scale. Ostendarp portrays one on a gigantic scale: It’s as if the pale blue sky is dripping. The result refers to the artist’s touch, celebrated by Abstract Expressionists such as Pollock, capturing it in the flat, Pop-inflected style of comic book graphics.
Fitzgerald’s sculptures, in equally saturated tones, are 14 gestural happy dances. Working with Model Magic from Crayola mixed with acrylic paint, Fitzgerald layers dozens of colored lengths of the goop into lively works that resemble piles of rose petals or tangles of colorful squirming leeches, depending on your mindset. Traces of her hand linger in every sensuous fold and pucker; it’s an anti-Minimalist extravaganza.
She titles each piece with the name of a gum - fittingly, because the sculptures’ increments resemble wads of chewed gum, and their hot tones deliver eye candy. “Teaberry’’ is a hunkering stack of pinks with an impertinent rump, like a duck’s tail. Fitzgerald makes art-history references, too - to Rodin, to Bernini, sculptors who seemed to caress their materials. And her pedestals, made of stacked Styrofoam coolers, distinctly recall Brancusi’s “Endless Column.’’
Still, for all its academic wit, the show’s immediate satisfaction is its primal delight in color and touch.
“On Display’’ is a Realist feat of precision painting. Delicately casting a shadow against a taupe ground, the old purse looks like a mandala, the beads a web of gathering circles tightening toward the center, where a flower pattern blossoms. You can see the weave of the silk beneath. A small, untitled painting beside it depicts little clusters of beads, each attached to an iridescent circle. The circles flash a rainbow of pastel tones. Gitman’s eagle-eye examination of light and texture make each painting a small marvel. These works have the clarity and visual sumptuousness of a Van Eyck painting, on a miniature scale and without the drama.
Then there’s Gitman’s “A Beauty (Mademoiselle Jeanne Hayard).’’ The label calls it oil on board, but it looks like a pencil drawing. In it, Gitman portrays a regal young woman with a discerning gaze, holding a bonnet and wrap. The artist captures these accouterments in rough sketch, but she brings the woman’s face and arms to life with subtle modulation of shadow at cheekbone, temple, neck, and elbow.
There’s a feminist reading to works like this: The purse and the domestic craftwork can be seen as a celebration of women. But my guess is that Gitman feels a kinship with the bead workers and painters of yore, and their aptitude for detail work. That kind of exactitude makes these works quite contemporary, and also timeless.
Bernard’s theme is movement. That’s hard to convey in sculpture. Her wall piece “Pinch, Poke, Pound, Punch, Scratch, Dig, Elbow’’ records those actions in wax circles bound in steel. They are merely documents of motion. So are her spiraling drawings and steel coiled sculptures, but a video, “Spiraling Inward,’’ for which she attached a camera to her hand while swiftly drawing a spiral, is dizzying and wonderfully perplexing.
Eric Sealine’s works, also at the gallery, can sometimes feel gimmicky. He’s at his best when playing with perspective. Many of his sculptures illustrate, as drawings can, how our perceptions of shapes change, depending on what angle we view them from. “Letters to Deborah,’’ made in graded layers of plywood, has us gazing down a staircase. A newel below is foreshortened. A banister skews up and right, looking like a ladder. Papers litter the upper landing, and one, folded as an airplane, can be seen out the window, floating in the dark air, which is a sweet counterpoint to the densely constructed interior space.