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A sensuous world of squiggles and drips

Aaron Petersen delights in painting. You can sense, just looking at his works at Kidder Smith Gallery, that he has a blast as he decorates his drips and works in round flourishes of color. He goes from grand gestures to tiny detail work with the same passion, and builds abstract worlds that draw you in with their intricacy and sensuousness.

Each work might portray a gathering of jellyfish, with floating organic forms, shimmering translucence, and narrow chains of bubbles. Petersen uses thin, layered veils of paint to create a sense of deep space, and the clusters of shapes that populate areas of the canvas occasionally suggest horizon lines in these underwater landscapes.

Gray drips cross the top of the diptych ''Clarity in the Fog," many decorated with red dots, or peppered with black or white spots. On the far left of the piece, a billowing, pale skirt of white drops into a gathering of lush round black and blue squiggles. Pale bars of dripping paint cross the two panels in beige and cream. Petersen spaces the bars with care; even the drips have a certain rhythm. But that regimentation gives way to improvisational riffs -- a fiery glow just below the surface, or random drips made somehow more legitimate with tiny adornments.

The artist works on blocky wood panels, which he frames in aluminum, giving these painterly pieces an assertive sculptural shape. And he invites us into an aesthetic dilemma: Some pieces he coats with resin, essentially sealing them beneath a clear, transparent gloss. Others he leaves bare.

Each style works, for very different reasons. In those without resin, you're virtually in the paint with him; you can almost feel the texture of brush on wood. The resin acts like an aquarium's glass wall, separating the viewer from the action and offering a different perspective. Being more ''outside," it's somehow easier to look deep within.

The show, then, has a slightly unfinished quality, as Petersen hasn't resolved this issue. Leaving the viewer to grapple with the choice, he draws attention away from his considerable talent.

For all that, it's exciting to experience the sharp difference a simple coat of resin can make.

Athletic prowess
Here's a light, pleasing summer show: GalleryKayafas has a group exhibition of sports photos. Jim Dow provides the foundation with his majestic, panoramic color images of stadiums. ''The Fleet Center, Boston, MA 1994" glows in amber and underwater blue, rustic and almost antique.

Lou Jones's images from various Olympic Games forgo the personal agonies and ecstasies played up on TV, and instead offer the pure elegance of the athletic form set on its proper stage. Look at his photo of the women's 100-meter hurdles in Atlanta: Shot from behind, the athletes fly over the grid of hurdles set on the track -- all sweat, muscle, and speed.

Laura Wulf followed the women's baseball team the Silver Bullets, who only had men's teams to play against when they debuted in 1997. ''Runner at First" displays a dancer's tension between the woman runner and the man guarding the base. Michael Malyszko's black-and-white shots of fans outside Fenway the night the Red Sox won the World Series rush with motion and joy. Bill Chapman takes pictures of fans in the stands, often children -- these can be a little too coy. On the whole, though, the exhibit is innocent and escapist, yet full of engaging work.

Spooky sights
''Seance," the group show at Fort Point Arts Community Gallery, digs into the intersection of art, technology, and the paranormal. At least since the advent of photography, when certain photographers used double exposures and other tricks to make images of ghosts, new technology has often been associated with psychic phenomena.

The exhibit is all over the place. Contrived or comic spookiness is no substitute for the real thing -- and good art can often spook you.

The most effective works include Anne Walsh's text piece listing scary sound effects: ''ghost, presence: wispy wind with little puffs." The list deconstructs the audio signals that give us goose pimples; it's funny, but disillusioning. Sheila Gallagher's installation invites the viewer into the artist's studio and her process: In this case, she e-mails with Internet psychics for ideas. The drawings and paintings that stem from these correspondences feel like the seeds of bigger works; a theme emerges, but the psychics seem incidental -- as much tools to the process as a paintbrush.

Holly Coulis's paintings of Sitting Bull and Napoleonic soldiers seem out of place in a show full of technological references. Kenneth Linehan's sound/video loop and Jane D. Marsching and Deb Todd Wheeler's video pieces come across as weak parodies. In another context, any of these works might be strong, but here, it's just not clear whether the artists are mocking the paranormal or really attempting to evoke it.

Aaron Petersen: Finding Our Place
Kidder Smith Gallery, 131 Newbury St., through July 30. 617-424-6900.

It’s How You Play The Game
At: GalleryKayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through July 30. 617-482-0411.

At: Fort Point Arts Community Gallery, 300 Summer St., through July 30. 617-423-4299.

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