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Town and country

Looking at birds and buildings
By GREG COOK  |  May 13, 2008

080516_inside_cozzensIn “Construction Details” at AS220’s Project Space (93 Mathewson Street, Providence, through May 25), artists Stephen Brownell and Jean Cozzens meditate on a subject that has haunted Providence over the past decade — the city’s redevelopment. The lost buildings and razed homes helped politicize Providence art (a good thing) because it made politics personal and imme-diate — something that threatened the artists’ homes.

“Fight against speculative development: neighborhoods belong to the people who live in them,” one of Cozzens’s screenprints shouts. It also features a drawing of a woman walking past a building that seems to be under construction, while she thinks “more housing for rich people.” Another print shows the wreckage of the Eagle Square building that was home to Fort Thunder until it was torn down in 2002. In the sky hovers a long quotation from the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti that warns “even if you win, you do know, don’t you, that you’re going to inherit piles of ruins?” Workers who built the buildings can rebuild them, Durruti adds  — “we carry a new world in our hearts.”

From such rabblerousing, Cozzens turns to the social nature of architecture. A screenprint diagrams how windows in an apartment maintain privacy or “open up the shared life of the house.” Architectural floor plan and cross section drawings catalogue the contents of her apartment, touching on the memories embedded in the stuff: “This table was the only piece of furniture that still exists from Emily’s childhood home.”

Cozzens seems to be mulling how these buildings and objects are transformed by people’s use of them, how we feel like we somehow own the buildings that we rent, that we pass by in our neighborhood, and that to lose them we lose part of ourselves. It’s a powerful theme, but the images and text feel shoehorned together. I wish she was better able to embody the the emotions in her designs.

Brownell turns realist paintings of I-beams at the Steel Yard, cement posts with a fringe of rebar sticking out the top, and glimpses from the relocation of I-195 into minimalist abstractions — red or tan lines against flat blue backgrounds. But the painting is too flat and plain to carry the bare bones compositions.

5 Traverse (5 Traverse Strteet, Providence, through June 14 ) offers work by Allison Paschke, Bill Shattuck, and Ben Shattuck. Paschke has been making delicate and meditative mini-malist geometric abstract paintings and serene little tissue-box-sized porcelain boxes with resin windows. The highlights are her four Tabriz paintings, featuring many layers of resin and acrylic gel and some ink atop a Plexiglas mirror. The abstractions are divided into geometric sections by a patchwork of quadrilaterals, which call to mind Richard Diebenkorn compositions. Paschke says her title comes from an Iranian city that had been a center for making Persian miniatures. Transparent layers of resin and gel shimmer and glow, green or gold or amber, like old glass bottles or Vaseline or religious icons, depending on the light.

Bird paintings and drawings by father and son Bill and Ben Shattuck of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, are displayed in a side room. Dad Bill presents sleek realist black-and-white charcoal portraits of a crow, a kingfisher, a hooded merganser, and a Canada goose with rakish profiles, S-curve necks, and proud chests. I imagine this is the way the birds would like to appear in author portraits on the back of books (if they wrote books). These are precise, finely-rendered, if somewhat fussy, images.

Gulls, ducks, and swallows appear out of inky blackness in son Ben’s oil-on-masonite paintings. They are animated by his dramatic dashed strokes that sit up on the surface of the wood, giving the paint a glassy smooth texture. This painting is about marksmanship — the accumulation of just the right number of confidently, accurately, seemingly effortlessly placed brushstrokes. And no more. Here and there you sense Ben struggling to figure out the thing, getting lost, laying on too much paint and bogging down. But much of the time he pulls it off, or close enough.

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Stephen Brownell , Jean Cozzens , Painting ,  More more >
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