Since his last solo show at the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery three years ago, Brooklyn artist Jayson Musson has further perfected his technique and seems ever more a painter, even though his material of choice is dyed mercerized cotton.
This latest group of works, fashioned from the Coogi sweaters he cuts, reassembles, sews together, and mounts on stretchers, are as painterly as any paintings. They have rich, varying textures; his color combinations are more subtle than the familiar vivid Coogi palette, and they have meandering passages that draw your eye from place to place.
Musson's references to the works of other artists are less easily discerned than before. The pale-brown treelike forms, accented with what must have originally been a dark brown chain-link sweater pattern, in The Truth in the Song bring to mind a section of a Charles Burchfield painting. The blue strips of fabric that seem to be flowing down from the top of World 1-1 suggest a Musson version of one of Pat Steir's drippy "waterfall" paintings. With their draped appendages, Pygmalion VII and Rosetta could be the cheery cousins of David Hammons' moody mixed-media wall-hanging works.
If you relate to Coogi sweaters as Musson, who is black, does, and see them as detritus of African American popular culture ("just another commodity on a long list of objects many people are manipulated into coveting or consuming," he has said), as well as evidence of the white power structure (Coogi has always been a white-owned company) profiting off African American taste, you'll likely come away with a deeper appreciation of Musson's works. They are multilayered in every sense.
But they're also clever - and beautifully made.
Through May 28. Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1216 Arch St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Information: 215-545-7562 or www.fleisherollman.com.
Elegance of black
When Quentin Morris, a Philadelphia painter who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, decided to make all-black paintings sometime in the early 1960s, his aim, he wrote, was "to present black's intrinsically enigmatic beauty and infinite depth; to refute all negative cultural mythologies about the color, and ultimately to create work that innately expresses the all-encompassing spirituality of life." Morris continues to fulfill that intention in his paintings and works on paper, as can be seen in his show at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, his first one-person exhibition there since 2007.
Recent and early works on unstretched canvas have the front gallery. To me, Morris' paintings with the most obvious irregularities encapsulate more of black's expressive possibilities than his round "tondo" paintings, as mesmerizing as those black circles can be. Untitled (October 1980), a 6-by-6-foot painting made with powdered pigment and Rhoplex, replete with a long gash in its upper right corner (made by Morris) through which the wall behind it appears as a sliver of white, expresses the encompassing quality of black and also its elegance. The rectangular painting Untitled (December 2014), in silk-screen printing ink and polymer acrylic on canvas that still bears its fold marks (left there intentionally), could be an all-black topographical map, an animal hide, a grave rubbing, or a war zone. It's a visitor from the ancient past.
The works on paper in the back gallery display all the nuances Morris has learned to coax from his materials. Untitled (August 2001), in graphite on Fabriano paper, gleams like polished pewter, and Untitled (November 2008), in black gesso, polymer acrylic, and silk-screen printing ink, is as shiny and black as patent leather.
The showstopper - and the only painting in this room - is the matte black tondo Untitled (November 1993). At 10 feet in diameter, it regally claims an entire wall, and you are its audience.
Through May 28. Larry Becker Contemporary Art, 43 N. 2nd St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and by appointment. Information: 215-925-5389 or www.artnet.com/lbecker.html.
Abstraction and magic
The little carriage-house-turned-gallery-space called Mount Airy Contemporary has one of the most seductive shows in Philadelphia at the moment, a two-person exhibition pairing the geometric abstract paintings of Gary Petersen of Brooklyn and the magic realist paintings of Anne Canfield, a Philadelphia painter.
Petersen's teetering, airy compositions of fluorescent orange, pink, and lime-green rectangles are more like paintings of an imaginary architecture as seen three-dimensionally than the geometric abstraction some of us might think of.
Canfield's beautifully colored paintings of ordinary places that show real architecture, and that seek out the uncanniness in them, are a perfect complement to (or foil for) Petersen's work.
Through May 7. Mount Airy Contemporary, 25 W. Mount Airy Ave., 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment. Information: 267-270-2787 or www.mountairycontemporary.com