"The Sight of Sound" at Machines with Magnets (400 Main Street, Pawtucket, through March 27) is a group show which focuses on the impetus behind much locally-made art: music. Though many artists here make both art and music, and Providence has become renowned for its rock posters, music's influence on Providence art often isn't obvious. So you're left trying to tease out connections between, say, Brian Chippendale's relentless Lightning Bolt drum beats and his obsessive mark-making.
THE TAPE WITHIN A painting by Lauren Minco.
"The Sight of Sound," curated by Allison Cole and MWM honcho Lauren Holt, is about music as style. It's art — illustration, prints, letterpress, photos, video, sound, and sculpture by 22 artists — that adopts something of music's swagger.
Shay Platz Bonnie of New York's turns concert promo posters in breakdance how-to fliers. (Do the windmill; do the headspin.) There are photos like the arty shots by Jonathan Beller of Providence of a Bee Gees cover band and Todd Sanchioni of San Francisco's pix of musicians in Laos (a man squatting with a horn, a boy monk singing, a couple hipsters with a guitar).
The comics of Dave Kiersh of Arlington, Massachusetts, speak of teen romance and boredom. He draws with a bubbly style and a pastel rainbow palette, but his stories can have a kind of sordid tone (where teen romance turns sketchy). The comics here are melancholy — teens aimlessly driving around town looking for something to do; a metal gal whose taste "maybe . . . . scared most boys away."
The catchiest art here are illustrationy paintings and collages that channel something of the thrill of music. Lauren Minco of Providence makes flat cartoony paintings of a blue-faced person listening to vinyl on an old Victrola and a pink woman whose body is a cassette deck. They're both sleek (the pink woman painting includes racing stripes) and rusty old-timey.
It Was Saturday + 3PM by Andrea Kang of Providence is an irresistibly cute parade of animals cut out from felt and patterned fabric. A bear holds the hand of a little cat, followed by a bunny in a tutu, a bear banging a drum, and a cat with a pink balloon. Perfect for your nursery wall — or your nostalgic bedroom.
Jyll Ethier-Mullen of Providence makes bright poppy paintings like Sounds of Heavy Rain, a picture of a stylized brown bird chirping atop branches (actually sticks stuck to the painting) against a turquoise background. From the bird's mouth emerges a word balloon ("la, la, la") as well as fine white curlicues of leaves and flowers. All these illustrationy artists have oodles of charisma, but the work doesn't stick to the ribs.
Other artists in the show head toward something a bit more substantial, but without such charm. Michael Bizon of Providence plumbs the look of music by presenting the knobs and wires of mixing boards and other sound tech as stand-alone sculptures. One is a custom MIDI Controller with gold and silver knobs and red and black plugs and wires on a mirrored deck. The idea could be more developed, but it gets you thinking about the allure of all the dials and meters, all the gear of rock and roll.
Christy Georg of Provincetown, Massa-chusetts, presents a contraption titled Punctuation. It's a maple viewer hung on the wall that you put your head into. It's a bit difficult to tell what's going on, but you look in a pair of eye pieces, which show tuning forks (actually mirrored reflections of forks next to your ears). The forks ring, you watch them vibrate, and you can hear the two different tones.
John Jacobson and Shawn Wallace of Providence set loose the DrawBot, a marker slung from a pair of pulleys that draws jittery lines based on computer commands. Responding to sound from the opening night party, it filled a wall with wavy squiggles that looked like beats registered on a heart monitor. It gets at the basic nature of music, but it feels predictable. The robot needs more interesting tasks.
That's the thing about Machines With Magnets shows: they are about potential energy, and promising artists who are still figuring out what they're trying to do. You have to admire their moxie, but I keep waiting for an MWM show to blow me away.