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The Mass Media

Allston Open Studios

Away From the Flock, 1994

Away From the Flock, 1994

Ahh, Braintree St: Allston. Not a familiar street even to a former resident and frequent visitor of the neighborhood. The large building at number 119 where many artists were showing looked like an old factory building. It made me think of what Allston must have been like 15-20 years ago in the time of rent control, when the city was grittier and Allston was wasn’t the product of parent’s money. The artist’s work mixed wonderfully in the building with piano restorers, grandparents selling bric-a-brac, and rooms filled with deliciously cheap wine.

After milling around the photographer’s wing and taking in the surprisingly stunning view from the bathroom, I wandered into a room filled with the swirling oil paintings of Tracy Levesque. I was immediately drawn to her portraits made up of pleasantly ugly and oily faced souls looking right at me.

My favorite painting form the entire show was titled Last Smoke Self Portrait. With her hair messy and in her face, eyebrows raised as to ask a question, she is sucking the life out of her cigarette, which is ready and willing to ash on her shirt. I saw ugly neck muscles, bad skin, sucked in cheeks, sad eyes and chunky rings. The remarkable aspect of all of her self-portraits is that in reality, Tracy is quite an alluring person. I find it daring how she exposes herself with often disgusted and uncomfortable sentiment, which emanates from every crevice of her face.

In contrast with introspective work and other portraits, her latest project has been experimentation with landscapes. I learned later that she wanted to use landscapes to bring out the uniqueness of natural life and show its character. Before reading any of her artist statement, I immediately focused on one image Hummingbirds Foxglove. It was done in the same way as her portraits; the subject filled the lens almost overflowing it. This particular piece was just four hanging vines of long cupped flowers. I was drawn to it, drawn to it because I felt bad for the them. I thought to myself, “Wow, they look like tiny little sad faces.” Yes, empathy for flowers, she got me!

Tracy is a self-taught oil painter; she looks at pictures and learns. I am sure that’s why she is introspective and talented enough to truly be able to reproduce how one human (or flower) feels at an exact moment in time. Her style has been dubbed “depressionism” which is somewhere between expressionism and symbolism and, honestly, I don’t think there could be a better title.

Stumbling into Miss Levesque’s room was a pleasant surprise and got me excited to venture up to the seventh floor where Dan Robertson was showing. Robertson finds rough materials from places in the city you rarely go and adds anything and everything to them, let it be glued stamps or painted birdies, he makes it interesting. I love things that are layered, scratched, shellacked, found, and then changed. He does this wonderfully. I applaud anyone who can mix thick layers of paint with a Mexican smoking man and ponder the question, “On the rocks, or neat and clean?”

His Coming Home Series II work has recently been featured in the Improper Bostonian and the fancy-I-can’t-afford Grotto Restaurant. This series also was awarded the Beacon Hill Art Walk’s blue ribbon. Many of these pieces have little stick-figure houses you would like to call home. Avoiding too much sentiment, there is always wit in his paintings. My favorite from the series is simply called Shit House. Yes, wonderful little outhouse, moon on door, what could be better?

For more such wit, his Series I features collaborations aptly titled Wit and Wisdom. Some pieces were shown at the open studios including “a little bird told me so.” Ahh, little bird on little canvas with newspaper hiding under paint sitting next to traffic signs and scribbly poetics. This series has more poetics (are you a science genius?), and better animals (snakes, pigs, goldfish and okay, more birds).

It’s nice to see such versatility. Roberson uses everything from bees to martinis, only using paper to finding crap on the street and showing influences from the east and the ol’ magazine.

If contrast is key, then positioning Dan Robertson next to Bren Bataclan and his smiley creatures was a great idea. If you haven’t already read about the Smile Boston Project or seen his colorful friends, you should make an effort to experience them. I don’t really even want to call his work paintings. It’s as if he is pregnant and giving birth to these little beings with weird eyeballs in blobby shapes with hats, horns, and colorful everything because I feel like they really exist. You want them to be your best friends. You wish you were one of the lucky people who found one of his paintings in Boston and took him up on his offer that, “This painting can be yours if you promise to smile at people more often.” In my room, on my wall I have a small card. He is my friend. He is a stick-figure open-mouthed globule with big teeth: I love him.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as cynical and bitter as any city-dwelling, cold-enduring northeasterner out there. Some of you may say “Okay, great, simple paintings of monsters, bright colors. This is art?” I’ll spare you from divulging into a pompous explanation of what constitutes art, but I know that this project and these critters are significant. They make people happy, they were born in our beloved Boston, live in our communities and are spreading all over the country and hopefully eventually to outer space. Most importantly, they are social commentary via monsters, happy monsters. We on the east coast seem to have a reputation for bitterness and introversion, so lets live our lives thinking of slugs with eyeballs and everything can be cooler.

For more information about the Artists, visit their websites:

Tracy Levesque: http://www.absolutearts.com/portfolios/t/tracylevesque/Dan Robertson: www.Barkhaus.com.Bren Bataclan (Smile Boston Project) http://bataclan.com