It's rare, in contemporary painting and sculpture, to find storytelling for its own sake. Narrative often plays second fiddle to technique or theory, but it's stories that drive two exhibitions up now: Matt Brackett's paintings at Alpha Gallery and Jerry Williams's sculptures at Genovese/Sullivan Gallery. Both are irresistibly accessible; neither forsakes form and technique for a well-told tale.
Brackett sets his deliciously ambiguous narratives at his late grandmother's home in Duxbury, which his family sold last year. He peoples the canvases with his own family and friends and, in one case, himself. The setting is rich with memory and loss, the relationships suggestive of longtime connection and entanglement. But he's not offering stories from his life. The images are too dreamlike; they verge on surreal. You could spend an hour looking at one, projecting your own story onto the scene.
''Recessional" has us gazing at the upper story of the wood-shingle house. People lean from every window, their bodies angling outward as they look down. A man stands on the roof; his white hat and yellow shirt pick up the sun and turn him into a beacon. He, too, stares at the ground. Has a child fallen? Or did Dad, at the grill, call up for hamburger orders? It's impossible to say. As a painter, Brackett intensifies his tale with composition and tone. This work is all angles: The skewed position he places the viewer in with regard to the house makes a sharp counterpoint to the lines of the figures.
He uses light, dark, and their meeting place at twilight to great effect. In paintings such as ''The Perseids," which features a woman gazing out the window of a sleeping porch, and ''Preparations at Dusk," in which two figures hoist a pallet piled with crates up into a tree, Brackett casts the glowing white of the house's lights against the electric blue that fills the sky just after the sun sets. He milks the magic and portent of that moment, which is neither night nor day, a time when unpredictable things can happen. In Brackett's paintings, they do.
The reflection is sweetly romantic, compared to the quotidian life in the bathroom, and if you look carefully, you'll see a woman behind the misted-up shower door. There in the flesh, she is not part of her partner's dreams.
Williams has a remarkable ability to create a complicated and active space within the confines of a box; he uses saturated colors and vividly drawn characters to make his intricate architecture come to life. Making an animated film seems like a natural next step, but ''The Twist," his little eight-minute takeoff on film noir, never takes off; the narrative is too symmetrically simple; the moral at the end feels pat. He's better off capturing a moment in a diorama and leaving his viewer to imagine the tale.
Jay Swift's sculptures, also at Genovese/Sullivan, have nothing in common with Williams's boxes; the pairing jars. But Swift puts his audience at ease with his quiet, elegant works. Two are abstract versions of the Buddha. They face each other, one in an orangy bronze, the other in silver, rounded and serene. The silver one subtly gets shinier at the top, suggesting enlightenment.
Swift also offers black slate wall sculptures, each a simple gesture with a wry, surprising cartoon appeal. ''Kiss," for instance, is an oval that cinches inward on one side in an exaggerated pucker. All of this artist's works are minimalist and strictly formal, but they don't swagger with minimalism's austerity. They have a lot of heart.
Ironically, Jane, who has been developing an international following, is too calculated. She conflates two hot trends of the moment: faux naive work and obsessive mark-making -- both of which fit handily into osp's aesthetic. Separately, each style has its own power. A larger pattern erupts out of the obsessive drawing. The faux-naive painting often considers the construction of space and reiterates the artist's own peculiar authorship.
Brought together in this way, however, the two styles work against each other, and the result is cloying and demanding, like a small child who has gone too long without a nap.