Gallery documents call Fred Lynch’s work “relief sculptures,” but I think that characterization is open to some question. True enough, they have depth and parts, wire, lines, structures, and different surface levels, but one apprehends them as paintings, as a visual instead of structural field. He has been putting stuff in his work for years, yet for me he remains a painter, and I see the work in this show, as I have for much of his work over the years, as graphic as opposed to material.

For example, the outer frame of “Jasper” is a light blue that is repeated throughout the piece, with different values. The frame surrounds a background field of solid yellow, and the rest of the work conducts itself within these limits.

This particular piece has a couple of small shapes of bare metal, four (or five, depending on how you count them) right-angle painted shapes, some in the aforementioned blue range, and a relatively large bow-tie sort of shape that reveals a number of little characteristic Lynch-type polygons within it. It is classic figure-ground, I suppose, with the addition of the natural metal color to the palette of blues, yellows, and ochres that populate the space.

Depth and structure here are armatures for a visual arena — we see these works, all of them, as color and shape, organized in Lynch’s characteristic method of impressing order to an otherwise unruly group of sometimes disparate elements. As long as I’ve known his work, and that’s quite a long time now, he has always found ways to ride herd on his elements, even as they might at first seem to be taking off on their own.

Nothing about any of the work in this show (or more properly, I guess, these two shows) induces reflections on aging, but they do conjure up a few ideas about longevity. For instance, Manning’s painting numbers indicate a long attention to a coherent theme, something you can guess even if you haven’t been around long enough, or paid enough attention, to know that he’s been using and developing these ideas for quite a while.

And Lynch’s extraction of order from jumble, his characteristic sense of edging away from chaos toward a personal sense of appropriate visual civility, has been a defining feature of his work that has taken time to develop.

Here are two quotes that come to mind. In “What are Years,” Marianne Moore asks, “And whence is courage: the unanswered question, the resolute doubt . . .” Some questions take the better part of a lifetime to address.

The other is the famous one from Bette Davis: “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” At my age I’m not entirely clear when old begins, but it is clear that strength in aging comes from continuing to do what needs to be done. 

“WILLIAM MANNING — PAINTINGS” and “FREDERICK LYNCH — RELIEF SCULPTURES” | at Icon Contemporary Art, 19 Mason St, Brunswick | through October 12 | 207.725.8157

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