INTRIGUE AND CHARM Blanc's Dart Away.
Paul Roustan is a virtuoso painter of odd subjects. Namely, the Pawtucket artist airbrushes makeup directly onto the naked bodies of fit models, which he presents in photographs. For example, in his show at AS220's Main Gallery (115 Empire Street, Providence, through December 27), Super Scar is a photo of an orange-haired woman in a phone booth, gripping her breasts as if she's ripping open her (painted-on) button-down shirt to reveal her superwoman costume beneath. Except the "costume" she reveals is the Superman "S" logo on her bare, unpainted chest. And since all her "clothes" are painted on, it's literally a striptease.
Which brings up a sticky question: Can something that acts so much like a pinup be regarded as good art? There's no doubting Roustan's mesmerizing skill as a painter of mind-bending illusions — such as a photo of a muscleman painted with glowing red jellyfish floating across his chest and a black-and-white image of a woman standing amidst a ruined building with her naked skin painted like a shattered window, including a black gaping hole between her breasts that seems to go right through her.
STRIPTEASE Roustan's Super Scar.
But turning women into objects and the undercurrent of damage and violence that runs through the work are usually seen as demeaning to women (though the models themselves, as seen in a video, seem to be having a fine time). In Regards to Nudity, featuring a naked guy painted with an array of cartoon penises, seems an awkward attempt to address this point. Overall, Roustan's remarkable technique isn't able to transcend the . . . well, skeevyness.
Which gets me thinking of John Currin, one of the most successful artists of the past decade, whose skeevy paintings of naked ladies are done with an ironic, post-modern winking to comment on porn while still increasingly presenting porn. To have his cake and eat it too is central to Currin's badboy cred. Does Roustan's art deserve credit for just straightforwardly being and relishing what it is?
Providence artists Ben Blanc, Matt Underwood, and Ben Watkins have teamed up to present their own work in "Seeing Through Lines" (1 Simms Avenue, unit 102, Providence, through December 15, call 401.481.7180 for hours). The title aptly references their shared focus on lines and geometry.
Watkins makes paintings by scratching or punching designs into fiberglass, Plexiglas, or styrene. A stippling of white dots picks out a profile of a skull; squiggly lines (handprints, it turns out) outline silhouettes of figures. Synapse is an hourglass-shaped pattern of fine, bent black lines etched into a moody blood red surface. The common motifs feel too familiar to carry the paintings, but Watkins gets all he can out of them with the spare precision and polish of his technique.
PRECISION AND POLISH A silhoutette by Watkins
Blanc's sculptures and furniture are built from steel tubes seemingly bent into 3D schematic diagrams. Dart Away resembles a computer vector map of a leaping rabbit. Sea Bloom is a screen made of repeating flat green acrylic bubble shapes. Blanc intended a glass-top desk set on an armature of black steel tubes to simply be abstract, but amidst the group you might think it looks a bit like a deer. This pull between hard abstraction and cute distillations of natural forms gives the finely wrought sculptures intrigue and charm.