Fringe festival

By GREG COOK  |  June 10, 2008

“Figure It Out” at GASP in Brookline (362 Boylston Street; through June 21), the first show there to take advantage of its recently expanded exhibition space, riffs on figure painting and human relationships. Much of the work is so-so, but a couple of artists stand out. Lucy Beecher Nelson of Cambridge has a pair of realist oil paintings inspired by a photo album of her mother’s family trip to Austria in the ’60s. Renderings of apartment buildings in winter and a couple in what appears to be a hotel room are pared down and crisp, the colors subdued. Then there’s Lucy, a 13-foot-wide portrait of nine standing women who the artist says all share the name Lucy. The artist herself is at the far right. The women are life-size, so they feel curiously present in the room with you. And all but one stare out, meeting your gaze.

Anne-Margot Ramstein of Jamaica Plain has three precise doodly drawings depicting annotated landscapes and maps on top of brains sliced in half. Ramstein’s metaphor for thinking and communication is too literal, but her drawing and her strange merging of landscape and brains are catchy.

LAMONTAGNE GALLERY, which opened in Fort Point a year ago and moved to South Boston in January, presents “Lia Halloran: Dark Skate” and “Michael Velliquette: Exotica” (555 East Second Street, South Boston; through June 21). The LA-based Halloran takes long-exposure photos of herself skateboarding through nighttime skate parks or city streets with a light attached to her wrist. In the photos, she disappears but leaves glowing white lines swooping and zigzagging through the air. I want the lines to convey the rush of skateboarding, but instead they feel gimmicky, like X-treme Jackson Pollock action painting. Her related paintings of disembodied skate parks are dashing — she can paint — but she doesn’t convince me that I should care about her subject.

Velliquette of Madison, Wisconsin, makes bright shaggy cut-paper pictures of hands holding flames, dreamy exotic birds, and bug-eyed monsters with rainbow fur. They’re charming, and her craft impresses, but it’s a forced attempt at being weird and symbolic, and the imagery feels generic.

Just down the street at PROOF, which opened last September, Bostonian Katie Hargrave’s The Freedom Trail: Economic and Cultural Pilgrimage (516 East Second Street, South Boston; through June 21) mulls the development, evolution, and marketing of Boston’s Freedom Trail in a series of podcasts (download Anumber of artists have been taking this documentary/anthropology tack. I love the idea, but the results seldom achieve the depth or the artistry of what you find on, say, PBS. And to avoid being seen as “entertainment,” they tend to be self-consciously arty or plodding. Ugh. Hargrave falls into the plodding camp — shots of city streets with pedestrians and functional voiceover. It’s a shame, because she’s got herself a rich subject.

At HALLSPACE, which has been around since 1997 but was transplanted to Dorchester in February, Bostonian Jeff Hull presents bright Expressionist paintings stuffed with odd shapes and symbols (eyes, flames, ships) in a show called “Titanic Transmissions” (950 Dorchester Ave; through June 30). They’re busy jumbles. I prefer his prints, a mix of woodcuts and linocuts with some paint and collage that recall the bright cheery designs of ’60s and ’70s flower-power posters or Christian religious banners. They’re a bit simpler than the paintings — fewer colors, fewer moving parts. The technical difficulty and the inverse thinking required of relief prints (you cut out from the printing plate the stuff you don’t want to print) seem to slow Hull down and give his imagery more weight.

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