A writer with a painterly touch

Works have cartoonish appeal

J.P. Donleavy’s “Now This Could Be a Psychological Situation’’ J.P. Donleavy’s “Now This Could Be a Psychological Situation’’
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / May 12, 2010

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Before J.P. Donleavy wrote his breakout first novel, “The Ginger Man,’’ which was published in 1955, he was a painter who had some luck with exhibitions in Dublin. Then he put his brushes aside, at least as a career choice, and became an author. “The Ginger Man’’ chronicles the bawdy misadventures of an American student in postwar Dublin. Donleavy has written nearly 30 novels since.

But he never entirely gave up painting, and his exhibit of ink-and-watercolor works at Pierre Menard Gallery shows off his mordant wit and an easy dexterity with line and tone. The works are sketches. Not overly ambitious, they read like notes on the passing scene, both inside and outside Donleavy’s psyche. The clever titles carry a lot of weight.

“Now This Could Be a Psychological Situation,’’ for instance, reads like a New Yorker cartoon: A fierce, colorful fish opens its enormous mouth and a procession of smaller fish swim right into the maw. The small fish in front represents the sentiment in the understated title. Ridiculous and funny, it reveals Donleavy’s clever sense of color and composition.

Fanged beasts appear as a comic, neurotic touchstone throughout the show. They jangle with color, attenuated lines, and a self-conscious nerviness that turns nightmarish scenes into cartoons. “Me Be Beast Who Cries in the Wilderness’’ shows a striped cat. Its sad blue eyes, turned up toward a sliver of moon, give the scenario a poignancy.

Also on view: voluptuous nudes drawn with a loaded, wet brush (“Without Hope for Tiny Hands’’ features a woman with her hands behind her back), and portraits that rely on an economy of line. “John Lennon’’ is a lovely evocation of a figure so familiar he’s hard to capture without being trite. Donleavy gives us Lennon’s round glasses, nose, and mouth in ink, but other contours are described in quiet breaths of tone that make concentric rings around his face.

Now in his 80s, Donleavy lives in Ireland. His acclaim as a writer has garnered attention for his art. These works are fun, but they are clearly just the doodles of an artist capable of more.

Sculptors inside out
Murray Dewart’s sculptures do not belong in a gallery. Resembling portals, gates, and altars, they would best be viewed in nature, preferably stumbled upon during a ramble through the forest. But they’re on exhibit now at Boston Sculptors Gallery, where you can sense their quiet majesty, even if the environment is all wrong. Gathering too many sacred sites in one room can titrate the effect.

“Donegal Gate’’ comprises two granite pillars across a granite pedestal. A broad copper cylinder with gracefully beveled tips sits across the top, and a bronze ring crossed by a grid fills the center. The massive piece has a spiritual gravity, a sense that it’s solidly planted but might open to places you’ve never imagined.

Peter Lipsitt’s sculptures, also at Boston Sculptors, are more homely yet no less compelling than Dewart’s. Lipsitt makes his cement-and-mixed-media works from single-use molds such as cardboard boxes. The rough-textured pieces embody interiors we don’t think much about, and there’s something pleasingly vulnerable, even naked, about them.

“Superstructure’’ is rugged reddish beige, earthen like a cliff dwelling. It has windows and a shaft, and you can glimpse tubes passing within it. Lipsitt strung up “Chanty’’ with a worn rope and brawny knots, like something hauled from the sea, lumpy and pale blue. Smaller ropes drag from its bottom, and you can look up into it, where light and shadow hint at things we can’t quite see. These delicious interiors within interiors suggest no end to what’s within.

Eveleth touches appetites
Emily Eveleth is best known for her paintings of doughnuts, and I walked into her new show at Howard Yezerski Gallery doubtful that she could trigger the same mouth-watering response with images of toys. The first piece I saw, before even consulting the title sheet, features a humble lump textured with fleecy bumps; I immediately thought, That’s a fritter, and felt hungry.

But no, “One Eyed Bear’’ depicts a teddy with his back turned, and I realized it’s not the doughnuts, it’s Eveleth’s style and mediums that are mouth watering. “One Eyed Bear’’ and the other black-and-white works on paper here (there are also two color paintings) are made with graphite and alkyd, a medium used in oil paint, on mylar. It’s a slurry Eveleth can apply with a brush and wipe off with paint thinner, smudging and erasing.

For “Dinosaur,’’ she washed off the front of the toy, obliterating its face and belly in a way visually similar to how a waterfall wears down a rock face. Eveleth paints with a loose hand and theatrical lighting. In “8 Ball No. 3’’ the focus is on the ball, but the eyes go to the fingers around it, their almost fierce grip, and the way planes of light shape them. The piece is psychologically fraught and lusciously painted. Luscious seems to be this painter’s trademark.

J.P. DONLEAVY: Identities in the Original At: Pierre Menard Gallery,

10 Arrow St., Cambridge., through May 21. 617-868-2033,

PETER LIPSITT: Ancestor in Common MURRAY DEWART: Still Point At: Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through May 23. 617-482-7781,

EMILY EVELETH: Better Not Tell You Now At: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through May 26. 617-262-0550, www