One of the great contributions of cultural modernism has been the recognition of anonymous public spaces as places of poetry in their own right. That much is evident in two shows on view at local galleries. Alabama-based painter Stephen Strickland depicts vistas with figures on streets and beaches that exude a detached, cinematic quality. With titles like Humidity, Open Space and Intersection, they are painted deftly yet atmospherically — much in the way Walker Percy implied, as well as described, human interactions. In Through the Crowd (pictured), figures seen from elevated angles appear on streets reduced to people, pavement, pigeons and the space between them — the air itself — which suggests its own palpable presence. The beach scenes are somewhat more personal. Humidity is a two-panel sequence in which regular folks frolic in the tepid surf on a beach not unlike Gulf Shores. Here the flesh is fleshier and the salty air is denser, a clear, gel-like substance that unites them for the moment in a state of blandly placid contentment. Percy would be pleased.
Alisoun Meehan's large paintings of New York's Chinatown are more turbulent, as the district's hubbub is reflected in shop windows filled with the carcasses of slaughtered animals amid flashing neon. In Chef Graffiti, a window filled with rows of hanging poultry reflects the pulsating chaos of shoppers and traffic as well as the brick tenements across the street. Such scenes are ordinarily the domain of photorealism, but Meehan's pastels are more stylized. Paintings like Chinese Pigs On Mott St., in which slaughtered pigs are piled on a palette, or Cambodian Chickens, in which the plucked carcasses of long-necked birds await their culinary fate, suggest raw, wide-screen equivalents of Dutch baroque still-life paintings, a genre that graphically contemplates the darkly symbiotic relationship between mortality and well-being.
Stephen Strickland: THROUGH THE CROWD
Through April 26
Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789; www.coleprattgallery.com
Alisoun Meehan: THE CHINATOWN SERIES
Through April 23
Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 975-1557; www.goodchildrengallery.com