Besides the appeal of engaging subjects, paintings often seduce the senses with fabulous surfaces.
In new shows at Groveland and Circa galleries in Minneapolis, four painters depict graffiti-stained grain elevators, beach scenes and abstractions. Enlivening those otherwise mundane subjects are sophisticated surfaces that range from eggshell polish to moody strokes of brooding color, from creamy wax to mirror-like shimmers.
In his “Unmade City” series, Rod Massey leaves the cozy bungalows and back alleys of his south Minneapolis neighborhood for a grittier landscape of abandoned grain elevators, rail sidings and industrial detritus. In place of the slightly cartoonish green lawns, perky windows and welcoming front stoops for which he’s well known, he offers broken windows, boarded-up doors and rusty metalwork on graffitied buildings.
An undeniable melancholy infuses these scenes of economic decline and industrial neglect, relics of Minneapolis’ half-century heyday (1880-1930) as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World.” The world no longer needs these hulking storage vaults with their strange tilting towers and awkward spouts. And yet they retain the dignity and brawny pride of their no-frills, working-class origins.
Standing tall against bleak gray skies, the elevators have an epic toughness that Massey records with unsentimental honesty and affection in more than 40 paintings ranging from notebook-size to 3 feet square. He’s brilliant with rust, perfectly capturing the way it stains the yellowed paint around the bolts and latches on an old “Truck Door” or corrodes the ventilating pipes in “Third Anniversary.”
His sullen gray skies blend seamlessly with corrugated tin walls that are subtly splashed with delicate patches of peach and pink. In “Factory and Utility Pole” and “Winter Light,” his metal spouts and chimneys stand against pale skies rendered with the enameled perfection of a Renaissance master. Yet for all their descriptive detail, it is the modernism of Massey’s paintings that commands attention and respect. His “Big Wall Square” is pure Mondrian, a rhythmic symphony of squares and rectangles in ivory and black that is completely abstract even as it faithfully depicts the broken windows, ventilation panels and beams of an industrial site.
In Groveland’s adjacent coach-house annex, Minneapolis-based Tim Tozer takes viewers on a windy seaside vacation in eight paintings full of moody skies over chilly parking lots and eroding dunes. With brushy streaks of loose paint, he captures the quicksilver light of less-than-perfect summer days when kids squabble, gulls flock and too much togetherness drives families apart. Casually brilliant.
Open noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Groveland Gallery and Annex, 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. Free. Both shows end Oct. 17. 612-377-3800, grovelandgallery.com.
For a gallery with a reputation for finish-fetish art, Circa does not disappoint with its current show of encaustic panels by Illinois artist Paul Rinaldi and resin-coated panels by Jeff Leonard. Both are masterful handlers of their media, turning out flawless examples of elegant beauty.
Rinaldi’s panels are typically pastel abstractions whose pigmented-wax (i.e. encaustic) surfaces have a luscious skin rather like melted ice cream. Marked with “X” designs of pale pink, strawberry or lime, or bars of gray or taupe, the panels are delicate and romantically pretty as well as vulnerable to softening if exposed to sunlight or heat.
His newest piece is less precious, a three-dimensional wall sculpture that includes a rectangular blue-painted cage and panels of unfinished wood with dovetailed notches that suggest he is reusing pieces of old desk drawers. Stripes of red and yellow paint allude to Constructivist or De Stijl precedents and add more vigor to objects that are otherwise a bit too fey and decorative.
Leonard’s large abstractions are similarly beautiful, their resin-coated surfaces punctuated with swirls and spots of color that seem to explode like melting crystals or even fireworks in a night sky. Seemingly composed of black, wine red or milky white liquid, the translucent surfaces of the panels have a glassy skin of luminous sci-fi elegance.
Open 1-6 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Circa Gallery, 210 N. 1st. St., Mpls. Ends Oct. 24. Free. 612-332-2386, circagallery.org.