Brian Zink, Marisa Martino, and Robin Mandel

By design
By GREG COOK  |  January 10, 2012

SHARKEY_main
TOM SHARKEY Marisa Martino’s show “Dormit, Non Est Mortua” combines her interest in decorative design with her fascination for good, old-fashioned fisticuffs.

For some time now, East Cambridge artist Brian Zink has been rummaging through the history of '60s minimalism. His last body of work was wall reliefs assembled from Band-Aid-colored plastic handrails or bumpers like the ones you see in hospitals. They're serious, striped constructions, but also faintly humorous — like sculptures Carl Andre might make if he was confined to a nursing home.

>> SLIDESHOWBrian Zink, Marisa Martino, and Robin Mandel <<

Zink's new show, "Assembled" at Howard Yezerski Gallery (460 Harrison Ave, Boston, through February 7), features handsome, hard-edged abstractions assembled from mod, jitterbugging patterns of flat Plexiglass tiles. Some diamond and triangle designs feel like details from argyle sweaters. A white square radiates black and white rays like a Japanese rising-sun flag. One pattern of wide M's and W's made from black and white parallelograms begins to suggest fences receding back into space. But mainly Zink picks designs that emphasize the flatness of the surface.

And, oooh, those surfaces: shiny Plexi tiles — mostly muted blacks, grays, and ivories — catch the light of the room as well as your reflection. The works bring to mind the '50s California hard-edged paintings of Lorser Feitelson or Karl Benjamin, op art, the high gloss of fetish-finish art, and that line from the 1967 film The Graduate about the future being "plastics." They're buoyant, but also hermetic. It's not the sort of abstraction in which you dive into paint that's been whipped up into moody outbursts. It's about cool, sleek design and staying on the synthetic plastic surface. This literal shallowness is both tantalizing and alienating. Like Frank Stella said of his own flat, geometric paintings in 1966: "What you see is what you see."

Marisa Martino's show "Dormit, Non Est Mortua" ("Dreaming, Not Dead") at Hallway Gallery (66a South Street, Jamaica Plain, through January 29) is an homage to the old art of fisticuffs. She screenprints black-and-white photos of retired boxers and then surrounds them with elaborate decorative borders. Boston boxer Tony DeMarco, apparently stunned by a punch, is framed by cutout drawings of flowers set on a turquoise, blue, and black decorative matte and border.

Martino seems fascinated by stereotypically masculine violence, and contrasting it with decoration that's often seen as feminine. But really these works are about the pleasures of decorative design. Her portrait of Tom Sharkey, a heavyweight champ during the turn of the 19th century, is ringed by a rope frame and then set upon a charming watercolor painting of weeping gray clouds and blue-pen-line seas, with drawings of sailing ships collaged on top. Despite the apparent attempt to create a suggestive juxtaposition, the photographic portraits and the hand-made decorations kind of clash. The best parts are the Jamaica Plain artist's folksy, illustration-y drawing and handcraft.  

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