CAPITAL LETTERS Two representatives of Torsone’s ornate alphabet.
In her awesomely charming show "Mixed Messages" at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through February 26), Providence artist Arley-Rose Torsone fills one wall with a grid of 72 letters, each hand-painted on its own square of wood. The styles vary, like a topography exercise touching on gothic lettering, scripts, and the blocky characters of old athletic uniforms. You may find yourself puzzling over the group like a word search and picking out words and abbreviations: DUI, hag, BFF, julie (or is it "U Lie"?), pork, bug. The bottom row begins: "eat peas."
The piece attunes you to the charge and charisma of well-made letters and signs — and puts you a bit in the mindframe of Torsone, who seemingly passionately and infectiously ponders this stuff all the time.
"VISUAL DIARY" Sharlin's Wadi Rum.
Torsone was one of the reasons AS220 has looked so cool in recent years, serving as the art center's design director from 2006 to 2009. Lately between drawing logos for bands and film companies and learning sign painting, she has been designing the lovely old-timey shop signs for AS220's Mercantile Block building on Washington Street.
A good number of folks are working this nostalgic Back-To-the-Future, hand-made design territory, but Torsone's joyous, spot-on touch makes her one of the masters. She favors ornate, old-school fonts that often fall somewhere in the neighborhood of cowboy or circus, and might bring to mind George Maciunas's Fluxus posters and packaging.
Here she presents a simple letterpress poster reading "It's going to be O.K." and her Poop font poster, which shows what appears to be (but which I'm given to understand is a digital creation) the letters of the alphabet spelled out in poop in a toilet. It is a brilliant, wickedly funny idea that feels amazing, then makes you want to puke, then becomes amazing again (repeat). But Torsone has been focusing on handmade graphic design, so most of the show is hand-painted slogans on dinged and scratched boards that offer the charisma of their age.
She varies the lettering from word to word as she paints out simple, catchy slogans like "It Takes Courage to Enjoy It," "People Are Animals," or "Take Time." She paints the title of NSFW in chiseled looking letters of pink, red, and gray enamel on an old blue plank. Part of the gag is stoutly hand-lettering this naughty digital abbreviation. Torsone doesn't try to blow you over with her thoughtfulness. The signs read casual and a bit off the cuff, and just right.
SIMPLICITY Torsone's inspirational message.
Jonathan Sharlin of Providence calls his 80 romantic black-and-white photos in his strong exhibit "Here and There" at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence, through February 23) "my visual diary." About half the work comes from a 2010 trip to Jordan. Here is the mysterious ancient city of Petra, with its columns, rooms, and stairs carved out of sandstone cliffs. Elsewhere Sharlin records crumbling Greco-Roman colonnades at Jerash and tire tracks snaking across a desert valley at Wadi Rum. He snatches surreptitious glances of people and shops in the city of Madaba. The Jordan photos feel thoughtful but a bit quick, like a sharp-eyed photographer without the time to really get in deep.