|“Affinity’’ by Jered Sprecher, at Steven Zevitas Gallery.|
Suffused with energy, at odds with abstraction
You wouldn’t know it from looking at his apparently abstract canvases, but Jered Sprecher paints objects. Gemstones, flint knives, and
The exhibition’s title refers to a phrase found on some of Jan van Eyck’s works; it means “as best I can.’’ Van Eyck’s best had to do with portraying the illusion of reality - space, volume, light. Sprecher works toward an entirely different end.
Most of the time, it’s impossible to recognize what he was painting in the first place. In the jagged, startling “Affinity,’’ it looks as if the artist has taken scissors to a garishly colored abstract expressionist work, cut it into shards, and hung it drifting among sharp white angular banners. There’s a sense of space - the center recedes at top and bottom, but in a graphic-art kind of way, with triangles of color spiking into the picture plane. The brittle white sections break up the luscious, gaudy brush strokes in an almost obscene way, like redacted text.
The smudgy, atmospheric yellow-green ground of the small painting “Inside’’ might depict vapors at a toxic waste site. Over that, Sprecher outlines long, horizontal parallelograms, suggesting shelving. Between and around these, he paints a curtain of orange stripes. The parallelograms act as windows to the more expressionistic background, but they also hint at three-dimensional space, carved out of the flat stripes.
None of Sprecher’s paintings look alike. They might have been painted by different artists. They do share a nuanced viewing experience, and a decidedly fractious tone that arises from layering a variety of techniques in a manner that almost pits paint against picture. In the end, that opposition shakes out abstraction in a rough, uneasy way, full of unresolved, potent energy.
Rooted in pop culture
Kostas Seremetis belongs in the Takashi Murakami branch of contemporary art: His work is slick, cute, and commercial. It can, at times, be wickedly clever eye candy, with roots in comic book art and animation. In his show “Ready . . . Steady . . . Go!’’ at Fourth Wall Project, Seremetis paints Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat with dense, staccato brush strokes.
My first response to the trio “Mickey/Fingerpainting,’’ in which Mickey appears to be joyfully flipping the bird, is that it’s a joke worthy of a fifth-grader. But in “Common Courtesy,’’ Seremetis uses that image as a building block for a wonderfully chaotic, spinning pattern of grins, sharp chins, big-buttoned pants, and jauntily pointing fingers. Then I found myself wondering if the four-fingered Mickey might be just raising his index finger, inspired by an idea. If it’s either way, the series of paintings felt suddenly more conceptually provocative.
Still, working with subject matter that has huge popular culture currency is like playing a snare drum. The effect is bright and brisk and it grabs your attention. But how deep does it sink? I got a chuckle out of Seremetis’s silkscreen series in which he places real-life artists on comic book covers; for instance, Andy Warhol becomes the Silver Surfer. But will I remember it in six months?
In the “Batman/Fangs’’ series of gouache drawings in which Seremetis shuffles Batman’s cowl and his jaw and throws in a set of vampire chompers, he uses the campy, graphically simple, 1950s-era comic book caped crusader. Ultimately, the effect is one-note. He does the same thing with a group called “Captain America/Skulls,’’ but it’s more effective. For one, he rotates and multiplies the images as he does in “Common Courtesy.’’ Then, Captain America can be seen as a stand-in for America itself, here turning in and out of place with a symbol for death.
Seremetis, a New York artist, is big. He’s shown at Murakami’s gallery in Tokyo, and elsewhere around the world. His work, though, is nowhere near as canny and edgy as Murakami’s. If this show is an example, he should avoid the facile, because he is capable of making work with conceptual legs.
On the horizon
Katharina Chapuis’s paintings at Alpha Gallery provide a contemplative, sensuous respite from a hectic world. She covers her canvas in a plaster-gesso compound, which gives a rocky, rugged texture to the edges of each piece. Then she applies layer upon layer of glaze, building luminous colors. Each canvas is a swell of light - cherry red, turquoise, blue. Each has a concomitant emotional tone.
New in this group, Chapuis adds the occasional horizon line. “Untitled #SQ-GR112’’ is a pale, glowing green, with a darker green horizon that scoops upward at either side. That darker green comes in again at the top corners, as if we’re peering through a looking glass or a windowpane. The horizon anchors what would otherwise be endless depth. It shifts the experience from something nearly immersive to that of looking out into a vaporous landscape. The rough edges provide another tether to the earth, giving these light-filled paintings a sculptural presence.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.