The Sun Machine Is Coming Down
On display through Dec. 13
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St.
Some say you can't judge a book by its cover. The same goes for an art gallery. No matter how pretty the outside may be, there's always a chance of disappointment once you get inside.
Josef Kristofoletti's mural, "Angel of the Higgs Boson," is a great draw for the latest Redux show. It depicts a car mechanic's cutaway of a large machine, with clean lines and bold, pleasing colors. The artist has "lit" his subject with streaks of yellow and aquamarine, helping to show its shape and depth.
Kristofoletti is a Boston University graduate who uses a graphic arts sensibility to simplify complex objects; he's currently inspired by the theories of physicist Peter Higgs. Back in the 1960s, Higgs suggested particles gathered together, attracted by a universal lattice. To search for these tiny particles, scientists have built enormous machines — hence, the big mechanical mural.
The motif of lattices and universal order are continued inside the gallery. Kristofoletti's fellow BU alumnus Matt Philips takes the imagery of light particles, proto-molecular shapes, 1970s naivety, and Higgs' lattice — a kind of safety net for the universe — and gives it all his own outsider art twist.
Starting with a surface of (often murky) oil, he adds collaged fabric scraps and threads to create cubes, columns, pyramids, and bedspreads. His best work is his simplest, like the oil-only, solid-looking "Untitled (Grey Blocks)." But when he throws in too many shapes and ideas ("Party at the Moon Tower," "Princess"), the results are too messy and uneven to be effective.
"Princess" (see image) is probably the worst offender. The pink quilt-like painting looks rushed, uneven, and uninspired. The black squares aren't balanced, and even if Philips is trying to emulate lumpy bedding, there should still be some regulation to the contours. Breaking up his patterns with irregular lines, the artist turns what could have been a raw, fun piece into an eyesore.
An untitled fractal image shows a group of jagged shapes exploding across the canvas like pieces of broken glass. Philips gives many of them soft, warm colors to counterpoint the hard shapes. The whole collage is as striking and feathery as a Native American headdress, but there are too many of the shapes, and the finished piece looks cluttered and unappealing.
"Squint Skyward and Listen" is better, but it still suffers from a surfeit of shapes. Philips uses string on oil to depict a space scene with Saturnine rings, star chart lines connecting celestial bodies in the background. It's a beautiful image. Unfortunately he's added green and yellow shapes, which could be a planet, particle clusters, or unripe corn on the cob. Whatever they are, their forms and colors don't fit with the rest of "Squint."
Sometimes Philips' complex collages work well. "Painting (For Myra)" uses dozens of cubes, with dense dark colors encroaching on lighter, green shapes in the middle. Since the cubes look like little houses, this could be a comment on urban blight made from a bird's perspective. However, in keeping with Higgs' theory, all the forms are connected by a roughly delineated lattice, as crazed as the cracked glass on a picture frame.
Two "Prism" paintings are fondly reminiscent of the '70s penchant for pyramid power. Light shines into a prism, which emits different-colored beams. Most of them are marked with a vowel. There's a confident use of colors, and the "Prism II" wields one point perspective to set its pyramid in the distance, with the light shafts reaching forward.
Philips isn't afraid to experiment with color, shapes, or ideas, but the effect is overwhelming. While there are several well-wrought pieces in the show, none of them live up to the promise of the assured "Higgs Boson" mural.
Yes, there is chaos and clutter in the universe, but there's simple beauty as well, whether it's subatomic or man-made.