By James Foritano
Boston, MASS. — Jeannie Motherwell’s, fluid, shape-shifting exhibition, “Pour. Push. Layer.” at the Rafius Fane Gallery through October 22, stands in piquant juxtaposition to its, solid, four-square surroundings at 460 Harrison Ave.
The gallery is located in the eastern end of a long, grey, brawny stone building in the very heart of Boston’s SoWa district. Like its mate, 450 Harrison Ave., which sits just across a wide pedestrian alley filled with art watchers and people watchers, it is, block by block, dedicated to a Victorian love of heavy lifting and solid foundations. One can almost hear the grunts of the workmen as they unload railroad cars bearing laboriously quarried granite from near and far when it was first built; you almost sense the satisfaction of architect/engineers dusting off their hands to pronounce: “Well, that’s done!”
Motherwell’s paintings, though they do have large — even cosmic ambitions — and generous gallery dimensions, are equally dedicated to the gritty process of enacting, inch by inch, what to our Victorian ancestors only earned regard when it was well and finally done.
“Pompeii,” from one perspective, evokes a city dedicated to living large in and about solid Roman shelter. Acrylic paint is at once as glossily handsome as the brilliantined pompadour of a man-about-town; as seductively inflected as a sunset muting hue by hue into a quietly spectacular dusk.
Floating volumes, a lively interplay of colors, seem to be struts of promise predicting yet another fulfilling day in the bosom of empire.
And yet, as soon as one direction is pronounced by the swooping linearity of a long restful curve, don’t the edges of that curve, combusting into fragments, and those fragments themselves transforming into veils of color, promise more waywardness than way, more adventure than predictability?
In the upper left corner of a flux of color determinedly questing right and downward, doesn’t an unblinking cosmic eye (or thin-shelled egg) open another vista as resolutely, even obstreperously declaring: “I’ll stay right here, thank you!”?
In fact, “Pompeii,” though abstract, resounds both with doubt and terror, as well as the improbably awesome beauty of nature’s power to destroy, or just re-arrange, without regard to human purposes. Some Pompeiians must have remained rooted, others taking their chances with the flow of refugees. We viewers of “Pompeii” feel urged in both directions, urged on by the layers of emotion our surveying eyes discover.
“Mysterious Condition,” another large-dimensioned adventure, mostly beige, but a distinctive “Motherwell beige” both delights and cautions.
Treasure a harmony of champagne tones but don’t put them “in the bank” before you scrutinize the small print of those charcoal edges — that are not quite so charming. In fact, definitely smoldering as if in the first stages of, perhaps, ignition?
Priorities re-shuffle, sequences re-sort as Motherwell’s abstractions pour, push and layer themselves as one looks, and looks again, into vivid, combustible interactions rather than everlasting stabilities.
No, we don’t saunter away with our hands in the deep pockets of Victorian certainty, nor cut corners like the cars on the nearby Southeast Expressway, certain that speed solves distance. But hazarding, perhaps, just one careful foot over a border we thought had no beyond, and then another, discover a new path, both inward and outward — unfolding and enfolding.
(“Jeannie Motherwell: Pour. Push. Layer.” continues through October 22 at Rafius Fane Gallery, 460C Harrison Ave C24, Boston, Massachusetts. For more information, call (508) 843-2184.) South End Open Studios takes place on September 16 and 17; for more information, visit useaboston.com. For the latest schedule of SoWa Art + Design District events, visit www.sowaboston.com/calendar.)