A house definitely doesn't feel like a home in this anxiety-ridden exhibition of collage and sculpture by emerging local artist Dylan England. The centerpiece of the show, which begins with a large mural on the outside wall of The Vault's main gallery space and continues inside, is a haunting, understated sculpture consisting of a table holding 25 miniature houses in neat rows and bracketed by two old windows hung from the ceiling.
The impression the sculpture gives is disconcerting, as if the little houses are contained within a bigger house, which is contained within the still larger edifice that is the Vault gallery -- and so on. As for the message England might be after? Well, Malvina Reynolds' song "Little Boxes" (the one about suburban conformity popularized by Pete Seeger) comes to mind.
But the rest of the exhibition shows his thinking about houses goes deeper. The huge mural on the outside of the gallery is a jumble of cartoonish letters overlayed with scrawls that make whatever narrative might be present almost impossible to discern. (The only part I could make out: "It's barely noon / I can't stay awake.")
That piece joins a bleak, salon-style hanging of collages that combine photographs of monks tilling the soil, families peering at Hubble telescope images through holes in kitchen tables overlayed with the same inscrutable letters. Together, these two works points toward the darker side of being cooped up not only in our houses, but in our repetitive domestic habits.
It's enough to make you want to live outside.
Formally if not conceptually, Dylan's collages might suffer slightly in comparison to the sometimes humorous, sometimes lachrymose and often perfect assemblages crafted by Cletus Johnson. The Westfield-based artist, deeply gifted and somewhat reclusive, is the subject of a gorgeous exhibition featuring work from across several years on view in the Nina Freudenheim Gallery.
In his work, Johnson brings together his love for theater and film and his experience as a set designer with a supreme sense of order that, for me, strikes just the right chord between humor and melancholy. Some of his more immediately compelling work in this show includes three internally illuminated sculptures, which manage to be all these things at once: theater marquees, theater stages, painting frames and one-word poems.
His collage work often combines old newspaper movie listings with carefully chosen bits of paper and wood, and their effect is almost always striking. A series of collages featuring old drawings of businessmen photocopied and overlayed with animalistic features (like cat ears and whiskers and duck bills) are wonderfully funny.
And his work that grew out of a collaboration with poet Robert Creeley (one contains a beautiful excerpt from his "Gnomic Verses") show that the artist's compulsion and sense of order applies as much to visual elements as to language.
For these few reasons and plenty more, this show ought not to be missed.
Studio Hart gallerist Barbara Hart has a thing for circles. Fortunately for her, so do plenty of local artists whose circular work makes this compact show in this compact gallery a bite-sized delight.
Few local artists' identities are more bound up with the circle than Ani Hoover, who spent years painting multihued dripping orbs on yuppo paper. She's currently in a bit of a rebellious anti-circle phase, as evidenced by her hilarious knitting of the words "these circles are dead" spelled out in garishly bright colors of yarn woven into a burlap sack.
The rest of the show contains lots of excellent circular work (including a sculptural piece by Hoover, "Neck," that looks like an absurdly large piece of jewelry). Highlights included two pieces by Josef Bajus, one an orb meticulously crafted out of bits of white paper and staples and the other an exaggerated multilayered image of the ozone hole; a small piece of built-up bubbles of paint by Felice Koenig ("Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps") and "Dishwater," a fine painting by A.J. Fries.
"Coming Home to Empty Houses"
WHEN: Through June 30
WHERE: Vault, 702 Main St.
WHEN: Through July 18
WHERE: Nina Freudenheim Gallery, 140 North St.
WHEN: Through July 31
WHERE: Studio Hart, 65 Allen St.