Here and Now and Then

Art for vanquishing the end-of-summertime blues at Vessel and Mercury 20.

Emergent Behaviors
comprises figurative wall-mounted wire sculptures by Pamela MeroryDernham and paintings by Walter James Mansfield that
they influenced; it is thus a cohesive and complementary show. MeroryDernham bends
powder-coated steel wire into lively figures that emerge from the wall or from
their rectangular canvas backgrounds, suggesting pen drawings sprung from their
paper supports. There are no explicit narratives here, but viewers will surely
create their own, aided by titles invoking ancient Greece, classical Graces, and
mythic Valkyries, or playfully alluding to their own
ambiguity (“More To It Than Meets the Eye,” “Fascinating Rhythms,” “Closely
Guarded Secrets”); the gesticulating, dancing figures — executed in thick and
thin wire, creating an illusion of depth — paired with their diffuse shadows
seem both modern (Picasso and Calder) and ancient with Greco-Roman art clearly
inspiring the “Vessel Frieze” series, wine-jar ornamentation unrolled from its
clay cylinders. Mansfield’s
paintings in oil and enamel on canvas also flirt with archaism, but here cave
art, with its prey animals and hunters strewn across earth-toned fields. Mansfield magically
pursues his prey, attuned to how material and process affect and create imagery
and meaning (“Emergent Behavior,” “Temporal Mentality”). His stylized,
semi-abstract figures suggest botany (“Papillaria”)
and geography (“Confluence”) as well as hunters and shaman-artists. Emergent Behaviors runs through
September 24 at Vessel Gallery (471
25th St., Oakland).
510-893-8800 or Vessel-Gallery.com.

City (or at least suburb or village) and country are the subjects of Jill
McLennan’s City Strokes painting show
and Julie Alvarado’s mixed-media Camp
show. McLennan considers construction and graffiti as equal and opposite means
by which people affect their environment — good or bad, depending on the merits
of each case (with nature seemingly weighing in on the graffitists’ side). Her
cheerfully expressionist paintings of Oakland
and other locales are thus slow snapshots of civilization and the natural world
in colorful continual imbalance. Alvarado sees our attempts to live with nature
with similar good (and even goofy) humor. In her paintings, sculptures and
installation on the theme of learning woodcraft amid “thorns, stingers, horns,
and some very sharp teeth,” unwary ramblers fall prey to gigantic owlets, a
mammoth bass capsizes a canoe, a chorus line of swimmers portages a smoldering S’more the size of a dragon boat, and so on. Why not go
inside the centipede-adorned “Decorative Camping Phobia Tent”? Work on your
Urban Merit Badges, but remember: Only you can prevent the electric fire from
scorching your marshmallows. City Strokes
and Camp run through October 1 at
Mercury 20 (475 25th St.,
Oakland). 510-701-4620 or MercuryTwenty.com

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