A Little Italy

Portable frescoes transport the viewer

Marcia Myers grooves on color, texture and ancient Italy.

Her abstract diptychs and triptychs -- artspeak for paintings made of two or three panels attached to one another -- are floating fields of sun-soaked Mediterranean color that will remind you of an ancient Roman villa crossed with a cool, downtown loft.

Rectangles and squares of cool turquoises, wine-dark blues, burnished red-oranges, mustardy golds, creamy off-whites, and robin's-egg blues are separated by painted black lines, black frames, and the occasional black painted panel. They're unapologetically beautiful.

Scavi MMV-I by Marcia Myers
Scavi MMV-I by Marcia Myers

Stare at them for a moment, and you're transported from the cavernous gallery at Bentley Projects to some warm, earthy place where togas are appropriate attire and you can get someone to feed you peeled grapes as you recline on a cool marble settee.

The Italian vibe isn't accidental. Myers spent years studying four houses in Pompeii, the seaside Italian city destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption that has been the subject of countless History Channel documentaries and European package tours. Myers strips Pompeii of the Italian clichés, the Doric columns and ornate mosaics, and leaves only the essence of the ruined city in her panels of color.

Myers' pieces have a warm glow, as if lighted from within. That's because they're not oil paintings but frescoes, created by mixing paint pigment into wet plaster. It's a difficult technique Italian masters used for centuries. Michelangelo's Last Supper mural is a fresco, as are his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Myers puts her frescoes on linen rather than walls or ceilings. She applies the plaster roughly, imperfectly, and scars the surface with strokes of color. A coral scar interrupts a sea of turquoise; an amorphous russet splotch spreads across the corner of an ivory panel. The simple squares and rectangles are alive with vibrating, complementary colors and a sensual, robust texture. You want to reach out and touch them.

Myers gives the frescoes titles like Roman Frieze MMIV-V and Tempio de Iside MMV-III. They blend the new with the old. They're abstract frescoes, which is as odd a pairing as, say, easy-listening rap.

So what are they about?

Color, as indicated by a piece called Pigment Study Series that consists of four 20-inch-by-20-inch colored squares in shades of coral, turquoise, navy and gold hung in a row.

History, because some of her pieces are realistic reproductions of painted walls in the Pompeii ruins. And because fresco painting is a nearly dead technique.

But mostly Myers' frescoes are about mood. They're like Italian chill music: Their suggestive spareness leaves room for your imagination to wander. Not a bad way to spend a hour or two.

 
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