Marks of distinction

Miller Block Gallery's 'Cutting' is an impressive exercise in excising

By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent | February 9, 2006

When we think of mark-making, we picture paintbrushes, pencils, charcoal, and ink. We don't usually think of scissors and X-Acto knives. ''Cutting," an impressive group show at Miller Block Gallery, gathers together some of the more adventurous artists out there whose principal manner of making a mark on paper is to cut it.

Imi Hwangbo, Heather McGill, Adam Fowler, and Jane Masters all wield their cutting tools reductively, just as a child snipping the shape of a snowflake out of folded paper does. There's no adding on or pasting. There's only excising.

In Hwangbo's layered cut-paper-and-ink pieces, there is also no room for mistakes. For a single piece, she slices through and inks designs into several sheets of paper. She leaves the stacked papers loose, like the pages of a notepad, so they belly out from the wall. The blue-edged designs she cuts into them recede concentrically backward. ''Surfacing II" features a repeated flower shape. On the outer page, the flower is the largest; with each sheet, Hwangbo slices it smaller, creating entrancing sculptural designs that appear to radiate upward and outward.

Delicate precision meets chaos in Fowler's work, which also features layered paper. He cuts skeins of paper out of a half-dozen sheets and layers those threads so they look like someone's gone off the deep end with the Silly String.

Masters and McGill don't utilize blades like Hwangbo and Fowler. McGill conceives her intricate, lacelike designs and has them laser-cut, often on black paper. She mounts them on stands so that light pours through them. Masters uses a heated stylus that burns through paper. Her ''Fusspot" stands away from the wall as well, casting shadow and light with her pinpoint burns. The piece looks like a fastidious needlepoint sampler, its title written across the center as if to broadcast the artist's obsessiveness.

While the other artists in the show are more old-school collage makers, affixing paper to paper, their work has contemporary wit and elegance. Michael Oatman's large-scale ''Exurbia (more leisure time for artists everywhere)" is a world unto itself, fashioned from illustrations from 1950s- and '60s-era science fiction magazines. Dozens of missiles, rockets, robots, astronauts, space stations, and moon rocks describe an extravagant, vast, and sometimes comical moonscape.

Juliann Cydylo's winsome abstractions nod at clothing and the figure, billowing like nightgowns on the clothesline. Javier Pinon skewers the machismo of the cowboy myth in his collages, which feature cutouts of photographs of chairs stacked impossibly high, with cowboys riding, balancing, and falling from them as if they were broncos. Karin Weiner's collages also strive for humor, but fall flat. When she forsakes comedy for design, though, she shines: ''Night Vision" is a mandala-like collage of pictures of owls, spectacularly rising and falling off its backing in concentric rings, making a fantastic kaleidoscopic sculpture.

Changing tones

Morgan Cohen's sumptuous color photographs get more and more simple, yet offer increasingly more to the eye. He used to shoot light flitting over corners where wall meets ceiling. In his new show at Gallery NAGA, he pares back those architectural indicators to focus on nuanced delights of light and color.

''Wall With Light" swims in warm orange, with a splash of paler amber washing up the middle, which in turn streaks with even paler licks of light. Up close, you can make out the horsehair-plaster texture of the wall, which seems a mundane vehicle for such evanescence.

Also up at NAGA, Terry Rose's luscious paintings shimmer, changing tone depending on how the light touches them. Rose splatters paint on wet varnish. The oil-and-water-type reaction creates globules that cluster like grapes along the shining surface.

For ''Something," he dripped a mix of gold and black paint on a slate-gray ground. The gold pulled away from the black, creating a shadow effect with dark chasing after light. Rose's paintings, while lush and abstract, have a serenity that echoes traditional Japanese and Chinese landscapes.

Paper in its prime

OH+T Gallery has expanded, taking over the former Clifford-Smith Gallery space next door. Inaugurating the remodeled gallery is a strong show of works on paper. Pamela Harris's colorful, gestural drawings may look Abstract Expressionist, but Harris actually works with a formula, repeating the same mark again and again. The great, arching loops end with little barbs, cutting up and filling the paper with both cyclonic energy and mincing little steps.

Katherine Jackson writes text so small it's usually impossible to read, but she creates swarming patterns with her tiny black marks, which somehow reflect the text she uses. ''Love is a Prime Number" features equations, upside down and backward, that coalesce into darkness upon which a spider's web dances.

Eva Lee draws with white ink on black paper, making dramatic abstractions that could be cellular or galactic. ''Navel Cell" is a ballooning network with tiny, glowing spermlike critters wiggling their way through it.

William Weiss's ink-on-paper drawings are made tightly, yet with a bold hand, blocking out clusters of wheels, pulleys, and rockets. The effect is like an Erector set erecting itself.

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on February 9th, 2006.

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