In art chat, realism and abstraction are often treated as if they came from alien planets with nothing in common except perhaps some paint. Art in three Minneapolis gallery shows suggests there are more similarities in these categories than tradition suggests.

Public Functionary

With their blossoming shapes, fine-line matrices and veils of color, the “Meridian” paintings of Liza Sylvestre look like textbook abstractions. They have no horizon lines to suggest landscapes, no faces or body parts to signal portraits, no crisp geometry to hint at architecture or the built environment. They don’t represent anything obvious, and yet their amorphously abstract designs suggest things. Ever eager to make sense of what we see, our minds link her inchoate designs to real-world stuff.

Inked and painted on polished white panels, Sylvestre’s multilayered images seem to twist and undulate as if they represent leaves and stems of seaweed stirred by ocean currents. They bloom into blood-red pools or stains of coffee brown and lapis lazuli blue. Jagged filaments of opalescent white streaming from the depths resemble jellyfish tendrils. Fine lines — in red, black, blue — twist and turn, suggesting roots, vines, ropes, knots. The images seems to flow from her pen like random doodles but are, at the same time, obsessively controlled. Her thin pigments puddle, stain and bleed together, but never turn to muck.

Typically her paintings are rectangular and a bit more than 3 feet tall. Others are narrow and irregularly shaped, with rounded cloudlike edges. Everywhere her luminous, evanescent images suggest many things but represent nothing.

A Minneapolis native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Sylvestre, 32, spent a half-dozen years in Miami, where she launched her career before returning to the Twin Cities a couple of years ago. Perhaps her immersion in Florida’s tropical landscape inspired her oceanic abstractions. Or maybe they just sprang from experiments with paint. Though pretty enough to be dismissed as mere eye candy, her paintings have just enough guts to compel attention.

4-8 p.m. Tue., noon-4 p.m. Wed., noon-8 p.m. Fri., 7-11 p.m. Sat. Ends Jan. 9. Free. 1400 12th Av. NE., Mpls. Enter through the loading dock on Buchanan Street. 612-238-9523 or

Groveland Gallery

Landscapes are the broad theme uniting the four artists whose works on paper are featured in Groveland’s main gallery, but many of the 28 images hover right on the edge of abstraction even when they depict something specific.

Take Robert Dorlac’s Icelandic watercolors. Even their titles are cryptically abstract. Each is the letter “S” followed by a number as in “S5,” or “S16.” The S stands for Siglufjordur, a fjord and town on the north coast of Iceland where Dorlac spent a month as artist-in-residence during 2013.

The watercolors he made there are models of understated description. With a few, expert strokes of palest color he evokes a mountain, deep water, a shadowed glacier, tongues of melting snow, the pale light of an April morning in northern latitudes. A faint wedge of lilac nudging a wash of yellow-gray looms as a remote mountain in strange light.

Elsewhere in the gallery, Clara Ueland creates sunset on dark waters with flickers of deep blue and coral; Larry Welo scratches trees and grasses onto an intaglio plate, and Larry Hofmann alters tones and textures to change the time of day in four magical little paintings of an ageless landscape plucked from his imagination.

In the gallery’s carriage house annex, Minneapolis-based painter James Conaway wrestles his impressions of the city’s recent construction boom into 15 abstractions. Some read as loosely cubistic interpretations of the downtown skyline. Others suggest close-ups of cranes, beams and girders. The gleaming, tarry surfaces of some images are distracting, and the compositions of others contrived and unnecessarily static. For a guy who has been painting for decades, the pictures seem surprisingly awkward and unresolved.

Noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Ends Jan. 16. Free. 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. 612-377-7800 or

Form + Content Gallery

In diptychs titled “Planet Waves,” Twin Cities-based painter Howard Oransky layers brush strokes of lilac, navy and aqua onto rectangular canvases about 3 feet tall. They flank two taller canvases swirled with paler shades of similar colors overlaid with ivory swirls. The paintings’ chapel-like arrangement reinforces their solemn dedication to the memory of a beloved friend. There’s a certain meditational serenity inherent in the pictures, but their understatement quickly fades into corporate banality.

Noon-6 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Ends Jan. 9. Free. 210 N. 2nd St., Mpls. 612-436-1151 or