Bedraggled tutus? Rogue angel wings? Dried tofu twists? Though unidentifiable, the forms in David Fratkin’s five works at the Painting Center glide about with considerable self-possession. Produced through an elaborate combination of painting and block-printing techniques, they exude a svelte intricacy. Organic grids of pale blues float before patterns of pinkish-ochre; elegant blue- and green-grays shift above purples. In places, inner paint layers have crackled, as if weathered by time. All these effects seem sealed — encapsulated, if you like — beneath lustrous, smooth surfaces.
What vision triggered these luminous, stilled images? As the title of the show, Apparitions on a Greyhound Bus, suggests, they were inspired in part by a bus’s upholstery, absorbed during a long trip by the half-asleep artist. Gallerygoers familiar with another category of Fratkin’s work — his gleefully macabre scans of menaced (and menacing) dolls — will recognize his predilection for injecting the prosaic with the portentous. I found the Greyhound Bus works more resonant in their subtler humor and felicity of craftsmanship. As with Pop, these works draw on the frisson between elevated culture and mass-market banalities. But Fratkin’s lusciously layered pigments and rich surfaces possess a tactility different from the cool touch of Warhol or Lichtenstein. He reveals not just wit but personal engagement in endowing his abject motifs with majestic airs.
If Fratkin flirts with the satiric, Jo Ann Rothschild’s abstract paintings revel in their passions. Her 12 canvases on view at the Painting Center exude an unabashedly lyrical expressionism. Strokes of paint range from even brushings to thin scribbles, scrapings, and thick trowellings. These gestures fill the dimensions of each canvas with local exuberances of color, using a palette that favors deep carmine reds and dark blues set against warmer, more neutral hues. Everywhere one senses the urge to find a color to anchor this area or a particular mark to locate that sequence.
Suggestions of real-life subject matter abound, but never in conclusive fashion. In several canvases one could imagine the discombobulating energy of a street scene, spread out before one’s eyes. A punning exception, in these insistently hands-on paintings, is the pair of outlined hands appearing in “7-9-2013.” (All works in the show are titled according to their dates of completion. The title of one painting, finished the day the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional, adds the phrase, “An Important Day.”)
The sum of each of these paintings may not always be greater than its effervescent parts. But in the most powerful of them, local energies accumulate, imparting weight to canvas-wide events. In “4-15-2013,” a broad division of the painting between subdued blues and greens leads, across layered horizontals, to a compacted outlying ultramarine. It’s just one example of passions aligning, point by point, with a conviction of form.