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CAC’s latest Project Space exhibit explores a zone all its own

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James Lambert’s “Duvkullorna.”
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Three and a half stars

In-Between Through July 29; Wednesday-Saturday, 2-7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Contemporary Arts Center’s Project Space, 382-3886.

When is a coffee cup not a coffee cup? When the artist zooms in on a detail and blows it up until the breakfast staple turns into a geometric painting. The In-Between exhibit curated by Lisa Rock at the CAC Project Space presents small-format paintings that occupy a middle ground between representation and abstraction.

Take, for example, Sam Carr-Prindle’s “Nameless Platitudes,” a white canvas stippled with orange squares and green circles. It has a happy, carefree air. The tiny geometric forms casually swirl, as if dropped by accident into the picture plane. Then reality kicks in: Those are peas ’n’ carrots. What looked like a Minimalist abstract painting morphs into a witty, if unpretentious, still life of industrial cuisine. Similarly, Rock’s “Repeat” renders in cheerful oranges and pinks the columns, rows and threads structuring a bit of duct tape.

Fascination with pattern, and interest in scale change, unite In-Between canvases. Some painters blow up elements, while others miniaturize and scale down. One standout, Mel Davis’ “Arii Matamoe (The Royal End, After Gauguin),” zooms in on a detail from the master’s work. The result is a composition in which vegetal forms hover on the verge of recognition and retreat into uncertainty. Ambiguity also reigns in James Lambert’s “Wet Dry World” and Reid Hitt’s “Plum Conduit.” The paintings render lines and angles in evocative floor plans or suggestive architectural studies.

Perhaps in reaction to the outsize demands of the high-flying art world, most of the In-Between paintings have an unassuming, even purposely modest, vibe. The artists mainly keep the works light in style and in subject matter. Lambert’s “Duvkullorna,” however, uses layering and translucency to create a dense picture plane. Is it an aerial photograph? Are those sand pits for some future golf course?

In-Between trends well with the “Casualists” (a loosely affiliated group of artists on the East Coast) and game-changing painters on the West Coast. Five of the show’s six artists recently graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. While an overarching aesthetic wasn’t part of their education, they’re all young and in the process of finding their style. Some of the canvases would have benefitted from larger scale, and others seem to lack conviction, but it will be interesting to see where these artists go.

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