In Philly galleries this March: Neysa Grassi, Lynda Benglis, Kazimira Rachfal, Robert Younger

Detail from Neysa Grassi’s painting, “Warm Spring Rain”(2017), oil on panel, at Locks Gallery.

It’s not unusual for Locks Gallery to schedule concurrent one-person shows for its female artists, and its current exhibit of Neysa Grassi’s recent paintings and Lynda Benglis’ wall sculptures from the 1980s to the present gave me a thought: Instead of considering Grassi’s moody, painterly evocations of landscape and Benglis’s Mardi Gras palette and confident forms individually, as two unrelated shows, why not look for the common ground between them?

Grassi’s new paintings, on Locks’ ground floor, seem more directly tied to nature than her earlier paintings, and more brooding and atmospheric than before. Waterfalls, rain, mountains, and caves are suggested in these veiled, heavily textured works, as are landscape paintings by Gustave Courbet and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Some of the shapes in Grassi’s works are striking and simple. The most representational of these paintings, Cliff and Lake, shows a craggy cliff encircling an expanse of white sky and turquoise water.

Other, more abstract paintings capture the essence of natural events, as in Warm Spring Rain.

Benglis’s recent handmade paper pieces on chicken-wire supports recall her paper pieces from the 1970s, two of which are included here. But the newer ones are lighter, more open, and give the appearance of costumes drifting in air.

Camera icon Edith Newhall
“Venetian Opera” (2017) by Lynda Benglis, acrylic, medium, and sparkles on handmade paper over wire, at Locks Gallery.

The early, more solid and totemic pieces were made by pressing wet shredded paper into molds. The exposed areas of chicken wire in the new works lend them a look of detritus, too, as though created by hurricane winds.

Seeing these in tandem with Benglis’ pleated metal sculptures from the 1980s gave me a fresh appreciation for the latter, which I had previously thought of as overly elegant and lacking the defiance of her earlier sculptures.

Now I see that their dazzling construction laid the groundwork for the recent, airy works. In proximity to them, the pleated pieces look more eccentric and witty than I remember them being. Benglis’ fluidity with materials is on full display here.

I did not expect to find any aesthetic preferences shared by Grassi and Benglis — and I didn’t — but there is a strong link between them that I think most viewers of their shows will recognize, if not sense intuitively. Where Grassi conjures private experiences sublimely in paint, Benglis offers them up exuberantly, in three dimensions.

Through March 31 at Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Information: 215-629-1000 or locksgallery.com.

Abstracts with a handmade touch

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“the elements of geometrical propositions” (2014) by Kazimira Rachfal, oil on linen, at Larry Becker Contemporary Art.

Making her Philadelphia debut at Larry Becker Contemporary Art,  New York painter Kazimira Rachfal offers 23 works dating from 2014 to 2018 — plus one from 2006 revealing that she has been developing her particular vocabulary of abstraction for some time.

These are small paintings, slightly recalling larger works by such figures  as Josef Albers, Kazimir Malevich, and Mark Rothko, but they have a physicality and conscientiously “handmade” look that separates them from their forebears.

Unlike many painters, Rachfal makes her works on a table, looking down at her small canvases, which may account for their studious character.

You can look at these subtle paintings of slightly askew geometric forms and simultaneously see a half-opened door and a soaring nighttime sky.

Through March 24 at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, 43 N. Second St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and by appointment. Information: 215-925-5389 or artnet.com/galleries/larry-becker-contemporary-art

A Philly artist circles back

Camera icon EDITH NEWHALL
A partial view of Robert Younger’s “Bypass/Leaning Bypass” (2017), latex paint on wood with plastic buckets, at Marginal Utility.

Robert Younger is a Maine artist with Philadelphia ties. He grew up here and graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art — now UArts — before attending Yale University.

He’s exhibited his conceptual works in New York and elsewhere, and they’ve been turning up in Philadelphia galleries over the last two years, as part of the 2016 “Unlisted” fair at the Icebox at Crane Arts and in a group show at Pentimenti Gallery last February.  His latest is now at Marginal Utility — but just for another week.

An installation of Younger’s enormous work Bypass/Leaning Bypass takes over this small space dramatically. It’s a wall of handmade, colorful painted rectangles joined together and mounted on similarly colored, upside-down plastic buckets.

Through March 18 at Marginal Utility, 319 N. 11th St., noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment. Information: 888-643-5552 or marginalutility.org.