DON WYNN'S paintings have the feel of early 20th century American painting at a time when artists were attempting to absorb the great achievements of European modernism.
That the paintings were done this year inevitably gives these small and intimate works a nostalgic edge both in their subject matter and in the way they're painted.
Wynn chooses studio subjects -- still lifes and posed models -- bucolic landscapes and cozy street scenes. Each painting is solidly constructed following a simplified geometric structure based on Cezanne -- but without Cezanne's complex spatial sense and structural use of color.
In Wynn's world everything is comfortable and immobile. Only a slow light animates the objects and figures. People, dead fish and foliage all get the same textured and shaded treatment, and all are locked in what seems a deadpan version of the meditative mood.
Wynn's color has a simple seesaw resolution. Dark reds are balanced by muted yellows and greens. In "Interior, Woman Standing," oranges and yellows appear in the highlights and are anchored by the shadows where dim greens, violets and an occasionally brighter blue lurk.
The paintings are as much about art as about the things they depict. Subject matter is abstracted, devoid of interaction. A figure resting in a studylike room ("Summer Interior") is a prop, like the blue vase and books and the desk upon which they rest. The "psychology" of the figure is muffled, if not extinguished, in the paintings.
And how far can that carry us? Not very far, I'm afraid. To me, these paintings are capitulations in the face of the modern world. They neither explain their relationships with their antiquated subjects nor allow insight into the artist's reflection on modern art. They seize on moments in the past without accounting for the present or the future. In this sense, with their insistent nostalgic leanings, they are morbid paintings.
Gail McCarthy, on the other hand, recycles old pictorial ideas with brilliant results. That she is not painting pictures helps. Her new series of gilded and painted vessels contain hints of everything from Gustav Klimt's busy Viennese patterning to the atrocities of '60s-style interior design.
In one beguiling pot, floating squares and rectangles hover over one another, jostling for stage center. It is as though they are considering aligning themselves into proper cubist structure but can't quite get their act together. In another example, a beautifully smoky-pink pot, she mixes Western collage ideas with ancient "Chinese" patterns.
And through it all, McCarthy's eclecticism always seems relaxed and confident. The artist moves gracefully through the cluttered history of art deco, art moderne and the various corrupt cubist styles that emerged in the early years of the century and lingered into the '60s.
Even when using relatively gaudy colors and simplistic "scribble" patterns, she never succumbs to campy temptations. She can mix "ugly" purple and yellow combinations with jarring green and reds without getting the slightest funky about it. In fact, in "#47," she elevates the most prosaic design, a batch of gaudy color and a dumpy pot shape, to brilliant high elegance.
This is McCarthy's great strength: She can incorporate the hopelessly low and the grandly high without flinching. It may be that pottery allows that kind of seamless appropriation because it's meant to be decorative, not pictorial.
Still, McCarthy reconstitutes old pictorial ideas in a way seldom seen in pots. It is a stunning demonstration.
Gail McCarthy: New Work,
and Don Wynn: New Work
Gilded pots by Buffalo ceramic artist McCarthy and small paintings by Pennsylvanian Wynn.
Nina Freudenheim Gallery, 300 Delaware Ave. Through Jan. 9.