WAR ZONE An image from Metnick's "A Delicate Karma."
Providence artist Alan Metnick's black-and-white India ink drawings look as if they could have been made by obsessive children, with their buzzing patterns of buildings and trees and snaking tunnels. But titles like IEDs/Baghdad (2006) reveal that a wallpaper-like design of simply rendered cars shattered by cartoon bomb blasts is a manic vision of our Iraq war. Other works — like Gaza Attack #2 (2009), which depicts rows of cracked, melting buildings between jagged explosions in the foreground and flocks of arrows in the sky — refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
CHARGED Metnick’s Green Zone.
And they're the best thing in Metnick's show "A Delicate Karma: Recent Thoughts and Conversations" at Gallery Z (259 Atwells Avenue, Providence, through May 7). The exhibit features two additional bodies of work. Documentary photos depict the plain blunt concrete wall dividing Israel from the Palestinian West Bank. Vividly colored, hard-edged, geometric abstractions sometimes suggest 3D shapes, while recalling early Russian Modernism or Barnett Newman's Abstract Expressionist stripe paintings.
That stuff is okay, but the black-and-white drawings crackle. His best ones bring to mind the late '60s and early '70s art of Chicago Imagists Roger Brown and Christina Ramberg, who developed charged, cartoony, patterned paintings inspired by comic books and outsider art. Restricting himself to black-and-white, Metnick keeps the drawings' energy tight and pulsing, compared to some of his past color screenprints and drawings, which can be diffused by their rote pallets. Still Metnick's style can at times become over simplified to the point where it turns generic, as in Barriers/Walls (2009), which depicts buildings and trees standing on a pattern of hills. To make the simplicity work, it still has to retain particularity and idiosyncrasy.
When it succeeds, the simplicity transmits a charge. Green Zone (2010), which refers to the fortified zone in the center of Baghdad that became the headquarters for the American occupation, imagines a city ringed by arrows or moats or walls that all seem to vibrate with a nervous pulse. The folksy, electric patterns radiate a feeling of someone being driven to despair — or at least to distraction — by current events.
LYRICAL PAGES Zornoza’s Gallows Ground.
The Magic Child Repository: A Collection of Handmade Books and Book Objects," curated by Art Middleton of Providence at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through May 7), is like the underground library of America. Shelves are lined with 118 small press and self-published zines — mainly poetry and fiction chapbooks from around the country, plus a handful of artist books, mostly by Rhode Islanders. "I envisioned a space that was filled with books being treated as if they were art objects," Middleton says on the Craftland blog.
The word books are mostly by word people with an interest in design, but a greater interest in words. So the art is usually reserved for handsome screenprinted or letterpress covers like Rope-A-Dope Press' Run, a crisply designed chapbook of fiction by Kim Gek Lin Short featuring a cover decorated by a drawing of cowboy boots on crème paper with blue type.