X-rays, evil trees, divers dazzle at Clemente

“Pole Jumper,” by Clintel Steed, oil on canvas, 16 in. x 20 in., 2018.

BY NANCY ELSAMANOUDI | If I could recommend one show to art lovers who might be a somewhat put off by New York City’s slightly insular gallery scene, or to anyone just looking for a great under-the-radar show, it would be the group show currently up at the Abrazo Interno Gallery at The Clemente.

This surprisingly magical, beautifully curated show has a celebratory vibe to it that seems to rebut, with a smirk, grumpy old muggle notions that painting is somehow dead. Indeed, some of the paintings literally seem to be grinning at us.

In Clintel Steed’s painting “3MM Dive,” a rock-hard male diver smiles as he plunges feet first into a sun-soaked scene at the local pool. It’s not quite clear if the central figure is an elite athlete, a scuba diver or an ordinary man dreaming of scuba diving. Either way, this painting is cinematic in its frenetic intensity.

“Lion,” by Mary Jones, oil, spray enamel, gold and silver leaf, feathered wallpaper on canvas mounted panel, 11 in. x 14 in., 2014.

In another painting, “Pole Jumper,” the image shifts depending on how far you stand away from it. From afar, you can make out a blur of a man in with his legs flung in the air. Up close, the image of the flying pole jumper is less readable. If you did not know quite what to look for, you would briefly think it was an abstract painting, until you begin to make out a head here and a leg there.

In JoAnne Carson’s painting “Knotty Pine,” a very different kind character takes center stage. In Carson’s piece, an anthropomorphic, evil-looking red tree with stumps for eyes and a massive, mischievous smile sits in the middle of a whacked-out, punchy landscape with orange clouds and pink foliage.

In another one of Carson’s paintings, “Dream Catcher,” the massive head of a bird peaks out of a very angular-looking and sharp tree set against a turquoise sky filled with cotton candy clouds. These paintings are like stills of Tim Burton’s films on hallucinogens or the three-eyed fish in “The Simpsons.”

“Overstitch,” by Kay Sirikul Pattachote, sewn on paper, 28.5 in. x 20.5 in, 2018.

These paintings’ perversely uncanny humor is suggestive of something menacing, such as the possibility the natural world may be mutating into something unnatural, or synthetic.

Kay Sirikul Pattachote’s paintings, “Overstitch” and “Overstitches #1,” of reddish violet roses in various states of bloom, also speak to the fragility of nature and the human condition but in a far more understated way. In these two works, the materiality of the work is profoundly important to its meaning. In this series, Pattachote combines several pieces of paper in a way that melds drawing, sewing, painting and collage. In parts of the paintings, the thread is clumped together to create a textured surface. In other areas, the thread is sewn in sinuous lines that follow the blossoms’ curves and the stem.

Mary Jones’s small-scale paintings also incorporate collage elements in an unexpected way. In Jones’s piece “Renaissance,” X-rays of a hip bone and spine are integrated with silver leaf, spray paint and oil paint into an overall composition that reads seamlessly as a painting with a cohesive paint surface rather than a collage with disparate elements awkwardly sticking out. “Lion” is another stunning work of hers.

Although Jones’s process may call to mind artists like Merlin James, her images involve a very different, specific and highly idiosyncratic vocabulary.

Over all, this is a phenomenal show filled with great paintings that are in conversation with each other. The show’s works were curated and beautifully installed by Kyle Heidenheimer and Camilla Fallon. The show also includes artwork by Mie Yim, Elisabeth Condon, Walter Schrank, Susanna Coffey, Laura Newman, Amy Manhick, Pinkney Herbert, Camilla Fallon and Kyle Heidenheimer.

“Incise, Echo and Repeat” is on view at Abrazo Interno Gallery at The Clemente (Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Education Center), at 107 Suffolk St., between Rivington and Delancey Sts., until March 2. The gallery is open daily from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., except for major holidays. For more information, visit theclementecenter.org .

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