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Season for living and color

Works show off prisms where nature, art meet

By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / July 28, 2010

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Walk into the Howard Yezerski Gallery, and a quiet riot of color, light, jutting lines, and angles activates the space like lemonade activates the taste buds. It’s a terrific summer show, featuring light artist John Powell and sculptor James Tellin: bright and inviting, sharp but not ponderous.

Powell, better known for architectural projects that wash buildings with nuanced glows, here tags relatively simple metal sculptures to the wall and lights them. He does not light Tellin’s sculptures, which are mostly low tables scattered throughout the gallery, each painted in brilliant tones. Powell’s lights and Tellin’s colors together could make a person giddy.

Let’s start with Tellin, who has informally dubbed his wood pieces “landscape tables,’’ according to Yezerski. Each sports a vertical panel rising from the middle of the tabletop, with edges that lean, peak, and jut. The wood grain flows, and Tellin employs acrylic washes that emphasize the grain’s landscape references: rippling water, layers of rock, topographic maps. The colors range from brooding, inky blacks to exuberant greens, reds, and yellows.

The most satisfyingly complex piece, “Wood Construction #190,’’ a small, squarish table, is mostly blue. Tellin has pieced his vertical panel together from bits of wood, each with its grain moving in a different direction, each suggesting another element of landscape: greenish farmland rises to soft hills, which play against a thin horizontal line — a lake in the distance? — beneath a shimmering blue sky. The motif spills onto the tabletop, as it does in all the tables. Tellin balances the stringent formal and abstract constraints of these pieces with the expressive qualities of color and texture to delightfully evoke nature.

Powell’s colors quietly soak the wall. In “Ten Windows’’ they play off playing-card-size aluminum flaps, each arcing, each with a grid of squares cut out to look like window panes. Light pings off the aluminum in yellow and blue, casting both purple and pink shadows, which, together with the sculpture itself, create the giddy sense of a rotating pinwheel. Half the fun of these is the colored lights, and half the fun is the shadows they draw on the wall, which inevitably circle back to the sculptures themselves.

Graphic novel style
Summer is also a time to try the untried artists, as Carroll and Sons does with Karl Stevens. Readers of the Boston Phoenix know Stevens for his comic strip “Failure.’’ This show features his graphic novel “The Lodger,’’ chronicling the life of a 30-year-old artist in Boston. It is autobiographical, in the great tradition of the late Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor.’’ The protagonist gets dumped, drinks, moves in with his old teacher, drinks, makes art, finds a new girlfriend, and drinks.

Stevens is a talented realist artist — his strips pull you in visually with clever composition more than they do with narrative thrust. They effectively capture a slice of life. Here, he throws in small paintings and other drawings amid the strips. For instance, one dynamic color paint ing of a man holding his finger to his mouth on the subway hangs beside a similar image drawn into a strip.

Still, the exhibit is arrayed like a graphic novel, with discrete groupings for each month in 2009, when the story takes place. It doesn’t break out, as it should on gallery walls, into something bigger and more daring. Why not play more with scale, toy with chronology without losing its thread, and spread out? Otherwise, readers might just as well pick up the comic book as visit the gallery.

Summer gathering
Group shows are a staple in summertime. A light-hearted one at Boston Sculptors Gallery, “On/Of/Like/About Paper,’’ offers artists who usually work in three dimensions an opportunity to delve into paper and all its qualities: flatness, translucence, texture, pulpiness, ability to fold and take up space.

Leslie Wilcox’s wonderful lineup of 2-foot-tall sculptures made of heavyweight paper, each painted a buzzing tone, reminded me of deciding whom to talk to at a party: the carefully pleated one, the audaciously twisted one, the one that appears on the verge of toppling over? (Maybe not the last.)

Another party is evoked in Mary Sherman’s “At Heart, Spike Jones,’’ a Rube Goldberg-type contraption made of boxes suspended at different heights. Push a big blue button and a jaunty Jones tune plays. In one box, a turntable spins a cocktail glass; in another, a splatter painting rotates to a blur. Text encourages visitors to take a paper coaster with them and pass it on, sharing the art, sharing the party.

Hannah Verlin’s “Soak’’ installation looks like a ritual site. Wax bowls hang over a sheet of salt-covered paper. Ink in each bowl eats through the bottom and begins to drip out, splattering the paper and getting absorbed by the salt. The piece is all pristine white except for the ink, and beautifully conveys erosion and time passing. Caroline Bagenal has elegantly pieced together concentric paper circles in the simple “Cut Tree Rings.’’ Julia Shepley’s drawings in thread, shadow, and ink sandwiched between arcs of glass and mylar pull you in with delicate intimacy.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at cmcq@speakeasy.net.

JOHN POWELL & JAMES TELLIN: Between Form and Color At: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 20. 617-262-0550, www .howardyezerskigallery.com

KARL STEVENS: The Lodger

At: Carroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 21. 617-482-2477, www.carrollandsons.net

ON/OF/LIKE/ABOUT PAPER At: Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 15. 617-482-7781, www.bostonsculptors.com