Good neighbors. Two polished solo exhibits in adjoining Downtown galleries double the food for thought.
Craig Freeman's paintings and drawings at 707 Penn Gallery aren't exactly upbeat, but for a show self-described as exploring themes of "nihilism, depression, and suicide," it's not the downer it could be. That's partly because there's plenty of black humor here, though Freeman is far from flippant with the subject, and depression feels as if it's taken seriously. As a twist, Freeman populates his pictures with cartoon characters, which makes their dilemmas and despair feel less individualistic and of broader applicability.
Freeman's modestly sized paintings are designed more than composed, and resemble either icons, as in the stylized image of feet projecting from under an anvil, or logos, as in "Exit House," in which the words are combined with the image of a noose. These pictures make reference to tragedies of disaster and self-destruction, though they stop short of expressing much about them, leaving emotional distance. The accompanying drawings on discolored paper hold only disconnected and fragmentary images and are calculatedly incomplete.
One door over, at 709 Penn Gallery, Fabrizio Gerbino is exhibiting 10 paintings that, though not a conventionally tight series, share with each other a similarity of tone along with a predilection for shades of gray. (Not that kind!) The miscellaneous aspect keeps it interesting with horizontal and vertical formats, various materials and even a multi-panel piece of irregular shape. There are varied approaches to imagery, from a painterly representation of a hand to motifs, decorative elements, spatial perspectives and pure abstraction.
Gerbino is exercising more freedom than most artists permit themselves. The wide-ranging character of these works reflects the use of different sources for inspiration and forms, which are then filtered and channeled into his art. I'm reminded of the breadth of early Francesco Clemente, with whom Gerbino seems to share a foraging curiosity. Yet these pieces hang together, sufficiently unified by the artist's use of geometric and architectural space in conjunction with a looseness of paint-handling, as seen in "Untitled" (2008). While many of the paintings are heavily reworked, resulting in built-up surfaces, they maintain equilibrium between structure and fluidity.