Form + Content Gallery

Even abstract paintings can carry a story, as Elizabeth Erickson suggests in her luminous show “Now and Then, Kinds of Light.”

It is more conventional to wrap a narrative in portraits, landscapes or action pictures, but Erickson has successfully presented one in large cobalt blue canvases enlivened with dashes of yellow and gold over swirling undercurrents of plum, violet and shimmering green. It’s all pure abstraction but suggests a series of mysterious encounters with ephemeral beings that she represents as flickering light, shadowy form, dissolving orbs and vortexes.

Her glowing, jewel-like hues are reminiscent of medieval stained-glass windows and the gold-flecked pages of illuminated manuscripts, associations appropriate to pieces that she says were inspired by the writings and music of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century abbess, and other mystics and teachers as well as the starlit skies of the Minnesota prairies.

The series begins with “The Meeting (Discovery),” a deep blue canvas in which an encounter is suggested by a shimmering column of yellow light. In “The Dissolving,” that vision begins to fragment and fly apart. The same sonorous hues define “The Healer,” whose presence is marked by pale orbs and a swirling vortex of blue light, and in a second canvas of the same name, by wine-red stains and hints of a distant horizon across deep water. Not surprisingly, “The Grandmother (Striding Toward the Moon),” is the most literal with swirls of ivory suggesting a blanket-wrapped figure striding through a darkened landscape.

These delicate effects continue in “Cloud and Lily,” which hints at leaves flickering over water; “Chrysanthemum,” with its cascade of flower petals tumbling onto dark, luminous ground, and “The Messenger (Angel),” a bower of descending light. Even without their suggestive titles, Erickson’s abstractions could seduce an attentive viewer into meditative reveries.

Noon-6 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Ends April 12 • Free • 210 N. 2nd St., Mpls. • 612-436-1151 •

Circa Gallery

In theory, abstraction ought to be timeless. Why would a line or blob made in 2010 look any different from one made in 1990 or 1950? But abstract marks do reflect their time, as seen in the group show “Confiscape.”

To be clear, all the Circa abstractions are recent paintings by Minnesota artist Matthew Bergen, Philadelphia-based former Twin Citian Jacob Lunderby and Seattle artist Barry Maxwell. Even without earlier pictures for comparison, however, these are unmistakably of-the-moment pieces, their now-look certified by undercurrents of graffiti, glossy ribbons of acrylic color, and marks that look like tire tracks.

Bergen’s are the most interesting. Painted on panels of polished plywood, they feature geometric shapes (triangles, parallelograms, pyramids), cartoon blobs, bubbles floating over stains, airbrushed squiggles and smoky gray miasmas lifted from subway graffiti. Their dominant colors — aqua, white, orange — are fashion-forward, and the angular shapes and popcorn bubbles appear to be floating in space. The illusions of depth, combined with solid forms and cloudy mists, lend ornamental sassiness to paintings that seem destined for upscale interiors.

Lunderby goes for a busy effect, layering stripes, crisscrossed lines, and tire tracks over lattices, brick designs, window shapes and photos of trophies printed on mylar and sealed in a fixative that accumulated a lot of dust before it dried. Overly fussy and contrived, the images try a bit too hard to be edgy and hip.

The best part of Maxwell’s abstractions are his engaging titles including “Speaking in Tongues,” “One Thousand Suns,” “Phantom Vibration.” Typically composed of wide vertical stripes in bold colors (red, orange, white) over modulated miasmas in gray or taupe, they maintain a nice balance between design and inspiration.

1-6 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Ends April 12 • Free • 210 N. 2nd St., Mpls. • 612-332-2386 •

Groveland Annex

In its carriage-house Annex Gallery, Groveland Gallery has paired an unlikely duo, Minnesota-born New York painter Duncan Hannah and California-based printmaker Ellen Heck. Hannah’s storybook pictures feature listless young women loitering in gardens and period drawing rooms, waiting for life to happen. Despite their treacly resemblance to 1950s grade-school primers, his banal style and subjects have achieved considerable success, including a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship.

An infinitely more accomplished talent, Heck is a keen-eyed observer, in this case of girls age 6 to 10 in ballet dress and acting out scenes from “Alice in Wonderland.” In a series of imaginative woodcut-and-drypoint images, she captures with pitch-perfect grace all of the girls’ fleeting expressions, awkward gestures and knock-kneed stances.

Noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Ends April 19 • Free • 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls. • 612-377-7800 •