Wall-to-wall abstraction

Collaborative installation at samson

Jeffrey Gibson’s portion of “The Shades,’’ a collaboration with Jackie Saccoccio at samson. Jeffrey Gibson’s portion of “The Shades,’’ a collaboration with Jackie Saccoccio at samson.
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / September 22, 2010

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Jackie Saccoccio and Jeffrey Gibson title their exhibition at samson “The Shades,’’ a reference to an ancient Roman term for ghosts. But the show isn’t about loss, death, or palpable absence. It’s about contemporary abstraction. Consider this: There’s little new about abstraction; it’s full of the ghosts of painters past. To catch viewers’ attention, these artists brashly shove painting over a cliff’s edge into installation.

Saccoccio and Gibson each took an opposing, long gallery wall, and began with paintings on linen. Gibson’s 10 small pieces feature braces of crisp stripes, often in black and white, rotating this way and that, firmly bounded by colored borders. Other, more languid marks, airbrushed, spray-painted, and brushed on, add tone and a sense of touch. Frank Stella and Gibson’s Cherokee Choctaw ancestors ghost about in these works. Saccoccio’s two large paintings are far more Expressionistic, luscious, and painterly than Gibson’s, rapturous with colorful dabs and smears, drips and splatters, haunted by Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler.

What would have been a brainy dialogue about process — Saccoccio’s improvisation, Gibson’s careful building of pattern, space, and mark — develops into a face-off, perhaps of the kind couples in romantic comedies have before they succumb to one another’s charms.

Using Photoshop, Gibson made posters of his paintings, drained the posters of color, and plastered them like wallpaper in a dizzying grid all over his wall. He reproduced one as a woven rug in shades of gray, and hung it on a side wall. Saccoccio riffs on her paintings in clouds, drips, and operatic gashes all over her wall. She, too, restricts her wall work to black-and-white. Right in the middle, she slathers a section in white, erasing earlier marks, giving us breathing space.

Some of Gibson’s posters sneak around the gallery onto Saccoccio’s wall painting. Saccoccio has left her own smudgy marks on Gibson’s wall. The black-and-white walls were generated from or inspired by the paintings on linen. They may not be ghosts, but they are, in a sense, bloodless iterations of what might be seen as the living paintings. Bloodless, unbounded, and full of restless energy.

Saccoccio is guest curating an immersive collaborative exhibition, “Collision’’ at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art in November. Gibson will be a part of it. No doubt, this cheeky, moderately daring show is a taste of things to come.

A hand for caricature
I had to wonder, as I looked at Yana Payusova’s latest work at Howard Yezerski Gallery, if she has ever put together a graphic novel. Working with acrylic and India ink, she has a hand for caricature. Her paintings tell mordant, oblique tales, populated with odd, large-faced figures. This show, “Kunstkamera,’’ draws on her memories of growing up in the Soviet Union. They feel ripe for a larger narrative format.

Darkly surreal and comic, these paintings are dreamlike — evocative of mood, personality, tension, and place. “Moving Down the Moving Stairs’’ is a narrow, 5-foot-tall depiction of riders on an escalator, including a man with a TV for a head, two girls in school uniforms wearing smiling masks, a giant baby, couples smooching, a nun, and an older woman in whiteface, pursing her lips. It’s the public as a sideshow, drawn with edge and warmth.

“Snoop’’ has more of a story line: A girl and her shadow, the second a canny character in shades of gray, sit on the stoop and witness an old woman peeking into a window. In a second panel, the old woman, looking fond yet severe in a dotted blouse beneath a tweedy vest and skirt, squeezes the girl’s mouth in the aggressively affectionate way of some older female relatives.

Many of these paintings capture life through the eyes of a child; there’s a constant, low-grade, almost humorous sense of threat, and an innocent appraisal of grownups being universally odd, crammed together in small spaces against a sooty urban backdrop.

Fantasy figures
Ceramicist Megumi Naitoh is an aficionado of Second Life, the online game in which players create avatars to anonymously socialize, shop, and more. In her show at HallSpace, she melds some of those fantasy figures with real life. She takes photos of places, such as laundromats or shopping plazas. Then she lifts avatars from Second Life and digitally inserts them into these ordinary environments.

The results are funny and disturbing: A human figure with an oversized white rabbit’s head strides through the shopping plaza in “12/28/09,’’ and a blue-eyed mouse in a pink headband hangs out at the laundromat.

Naitoh adds nuance by screen-printing the images in glazes on earthenware tiles, creating mosaics. The tiles often tilt, so the image appears fractured and pixilated. Sometimes you see the avatar more clearly, and sometimes it’s the surroundings, because the tiles for each tilt away from each other. This is an occasionally effective and sly camouflage of the avatar in the environment, but sometimes it’s frustratingly hard to read.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at

JACKIE SACCOCCIO & JEFFREY GIBSON: The Shades At: samson, 450 Harrison Ave., through Oct. 9. 617-357-7177,

YANA PAYUSOVA: Kunstkamera

At: Howard Yezerski Gallery, 460 Harrison Ave., through

Oct. 12. 617-262-0550, www.

MEGUMI NAITOH: Login Community, Real Life/ Virtual Life At: HallSpace, 950 Dorchester Ave., through Oct. 9. 617-288-2255,