At Gallery 102 of the Crane Arts Building, two artists harness painted abstractions as a way to explore power relationships as well as shape and form. In the show curated by Rebecca Saylor Sack, Stuart Elster and Peter Krashes share the relatively spacious, rectangular room whose walls are lined with a mixture of painted works that range from the small – roughly 8 by 10 inches – to canvases 7 feet wide.
Stuart Elster’s approach to painting mostly involves a palette knife and globs of thickly applied gouache. In a way, his creations mirror subtractive sculpture as much as they do painterly processes. The artist carves out chunks of the pigment leaving ridges, valleys, and smooth but sharp, dried liquid-like textures behind. At first glance, the primary experience with Elster’s works is a sensual one. Content is obscured behind the medium and it actually becomes somewhat of a struggle not to run one’s hands across the surface of the paintings.
While their textures and sheens sit solidly in the foreground, the abstracted images that recede into the layers are important as well. Elster focuses on fashion (a Marc Jacobs bag), currency (the New Hampshire state quarter depicting the Old Man of the Mountain), and war (images of old battleships and cruisers). All of these references draw to mind the social and political power wielded in our contemporary world whether through aesthetics, money, or militaristic might. His nearly 7-foot-tall canvas “Live Free or Die” is particularly riveting. Up close it is a complex series of thickly outlined, shallowly scooped cells of many colors. From afar, optical blending forms the face of the late New Hampshire stone landmark and the letter ‘E’, referencing the coin of the same layout.
Krashes takes his imagery from his work as a community organizer in Brooklyn and his pieces are slightly more recognizable, depicting people, politicians, and words in more obvious ways. In his series “Elected Officials are our Surrogates,” Krashes shows a suited, Mitt Romney-esque figure conducting an interview in front of a media crew and camera. The second and third iteration of this starting point quickly degrade into hazy, green madness in which the initial picture is visible but repeated or covered in strange washes of color. It would seem that perhaps this progression implies a lack of confidence in our leaders or at least a caricature of their media faces.
Other works by Krashes show portraits that could either appear monstrous or as benignly face-painted children at a street fair. Another, whose title proclaims “Hand Painted Signs are More Effective,” says merely the word “for” hinting at moral or political standings and the appeal of the handmade and heartfelt.
Work by the two artists will be on display in Gallery 102 through February 2.