Bostonian Fredo Conde's sculptures are like portraits of living-large America. Here they include a fat gold watch, a chubby old mobile phone, a leopard-print painting, and a black briefcase. Everything's just painted wood. The briefcase gives itself away by not being completely painted black. There's a glib and shallow feel to Conde's art that perhaps echoes the society it portrays. "Scratch the surface and it's paste," this make-believe bling seems to be saying.
The artist Alone presents graffiti-style painting and drawings. Janos Stone — Nico's brother, who hails from Watertown but now resides in Queens, New York — carves a picture of couples playing on a Nintendo Wii into a faceted sheet of plasterboard. It's a lot of effort and care devoted to a depiction of people fooling around. Matthew Rich of Jamaica Plain paints careful, hard-edged abstractions. He teases the flatness of this style, much as Frank Stella used to do, by creating optical illusions that make his work appear three-dimensional.
Raúl González of Somerville had a breakout year in 2009 with his faux-antique drawings of old cartoon-Injun stereotypes. Depending on our knowledge of the decimation of Native American tribes to create emotion, he enlarged details of his motifs — a giant eye, disembodied arms brandishing weapons — to the point that the sharp drawings took on lives of their own, independent of the subject matter.
Here, he paints blue-eyed figures wearing desert-camouflage hoods (something between a Mexican-wrestler mask and a Klan hood) under slogans like El héroe de las Américas ("The hero of the Americas") and En plena vista Los Protectores de la Linea ("In plain view the Protectors of the Line"). They're rendered in a folksy style on planks resembling picket fencing. González addresses the anti-immigrant fervor, the vigilante border guards, and the drug-trafficking violence that have focused attention on US-Mexico border issues. Nearby, a trio of cartoony drawings of a fellow with a pompadour and a black eye surrounded by a cloud of cartoon violence — fists, clubs, broken bottles — demonstrate that his draftsmanship is ever more deft. But in his new paintings and his drawings, the compositions aren't as daring, and he hasn't made his subjects as resonant as in his Injun series. It may just be that he hasn't found the right symbolic motifs yet.
If you're looking for an antidote to all this gloomy seriousness, check out "Little Critters," a goofball group show of "pet-inspired art" by 16 (mostly local) artists organized by V Van Sant of Somerville at Nave Gallery. Many of the works are mild, entertaining pet jokes, like Florida photographer Joann Biondi's portraits of her Maine coon mix Lorenzo posed in a Hawaiian shirt at the beach, or in a Rastafarian sweater before a trippy red, yellow, green, and black banner. It's like William Wegman for cat fanciers.
Barb and Scott Withers of Michigan make short, silly videos of a dog-headed person sneaking into a refrigerator for a midnight snack or trying to eat with chopsticks. The dog appears to be perched on the hidden person's shoulders, the two of them crammed into a single robe. Much of the humor comes from the way the human hands grope for the dog's mouth.