August is usually a drowsy month in local arts, all the drowsier now with Soil Gallery about to vacate and with Linda Cannon and Donald

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Leaving a paper trail

Thousands of Post-it notes, a journal of the plague years, and painter who writes in pencil.

August is usually a drowsy month in local arts, all the drowsier now with Soil Gallery about to vacate and with Linda Cannon and Donald Young not far behind. Looking for life on First Thursday (and passing up excellent but already-open exhibits at Meyerson & Nowinski and G. Gibson), I found three surprises.

Project 416

Melynda Gierard

through September 20

Oculus

Claire Johnson

through August 29

William Traver

Jaq Chartier

through August 30

Project 416 far exceeded its usual experimental fare with five pieces by Melynda Gierard of Ketchikan, Alaska. Her wall-mounted rectangles of foam-core—measuring about 8 feet high and up to 15 feet long, and plastered with thousands upon thousands of precisely folded, overlapping, Post-it notes—must be seen to be appreciated. And it should be seen.

In some of her rectangles, repetition rules: Almost all the notes are folded identically, but for a few rebels standing literally against the grain. In other pieces there's a seemingly inexhaustible variety of creasing. This is especially true of the two gigantic saffron yellow Samplers (themselves only slices of a 40-foot piece that was probably too long for the space). Contrasting fields of pleats diffuse into one another, marching across the wall fold upon fold.

References multiply like the Post-it notes themselves: weaving, origami, color-field painting (here updated to a neon palette), the flickering pixels of a video display.

At the opening party, Gierard hardly seemed the type to make such compulsive work: She glibly tossed off references to 19-century art heroes, was quite pleased by suggestions that her Post-its might make fine grade-school art projects, and laughingly downplayed the 40 days she said she spent on one panel. I'm happy to indulge any artist who can come up with a medium as light-hearted yet absorbing as hers. (The 3M Corp. donated 70,000 Post-it notes to Gierard, and includes her on its Web site at www.mmm.com).

Around the corner, between Collusion and FotoCircle, nestles the Oculus co-op gallery. I had always poked my head in at openings and always quickly left, until this evening. The old "Rolling Stones" tunes and the mirror ball (which unfortunately was gone the next day) set the tone for 10 big oil paintings, done after photographs that the artist, Claire Johnson, shot in an old San Francisco gay bar, the Stud, one Halloween night in 1978.

To judge by her apparently uncropped views, Johnson was right in the guys' faces as they cavorted in drag, or in Halloween wear, or in street clothes. Mouths are caught voicing unknowable somethings; faces contemplate the camera or preen in masks; bare torsos wriggle in dance.

Despite her use of documentary motifs—the unconcealed photographic origin of the work; presentation of it as a time-linked series, equal opportunity given to both awkward and graceful moments—Johnson's paintings bathe these vanished men in a warmth that exceeds the already warm reds and yellows of her oils. And vanish they did: The Halloween skeleton lurking in a corner in some of the pictures reminds us of what was on the way. The revelers—so dated in their '70s get-ups and so ordinary to begin with—have some of the pathos that we read into photographs of, say, Central European ghetto dwellers of the 1930s. Johnson has worked on this series for quite awhile; I hope she can find another to do as well as she did this one.

Uptown, at William Traver, Jaq Chartier's paintings have taken a neat turn. For years, Chartier has done luscious work: gentle abstractions, at once both geometric and organic, in oil and wax. Her forms hover with assured yet delicate poise against luminous backgrounds.

In her current exhibit, called "Testing," she keeps these elements, but lets her painted stains and milky films refer to the real worlds of paint chemistry and of medicine. Their titles—and the many tiny-penciled notations on them—suggest experimentation. For example, in Tip Test, paint was apparently run down the tipped panel; in Peel Test, something was applied to the surface, then torn off wet.

Some pieces aren't for the squeamish. The blandly titled Oil vs. Acrylic will definitely elicit "eeeeeuwws." With hard-edged drips like fresh blood and leached-out stains of pale pink, it recalls visits to the blood bank, especially of the finger-sticking and smear-a-slide parts. Such references, alternately detached and discomfiting, lend Chartier's work a hitherto missing intensity.

 
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