Installation view, "Play Date," featuring work by Adria Arch and Jai Hart at Nearby Gallery, 2022.
Nuzzled between popular Newton Centre destinations on Union Street, Nearby Gallery presents a fresh lineup of monthly contemporary art exhibitions by emerging artists. Launched amidst the pandemic, the artist-owned showroom and community art space is led by collaborators Cal Rice and Sam Belisle. As artists themselves, Rice and Belisle sought to create a hyperlocal space with exhibition opportunities accessible to artists in the community. With close to a dozen shows under their belts, their current exhibition is representative of the gallery’s mission to be a site for artists to experiment with one another. In turn, “Play Date” is a sculptural rendezvous between the spatially dynamic duo, Adria Arch and Jai Hart, that springs across the gallery’s upstairs space.
As a lifelong artist and Arlington resident, Arch is known for her larger-than-life sculptures that are sometimes wall-based and sometimes airborne. Inspired by fashion, playground structures, and theater sets, Arch conjures a whimsical, Seuss-like spirit into a three-dimensional atmosphere. The artist was lined up for a solo show at Nearby when she realized she wanted to share the gallery with a painter. She found Hart, who moved to Boston recently, on Instagram and was “intrigued by her original approach to painting.” After studio visits, the artists decided to place their work into a dialogue.
“Play Date” is the exchange of two distinct, colorful personalities. Paintings and sculptures perform theater—character-infused bodies in a co-created world. Hart’s cushiony, sculptural paintings meet Arch’s modular gizmos. Arch and Hart enact play by troubling boundaries of medium and space, indulging in a shared delight of humor and curiosity.
Three sculptures by Adria Arch on view at Nearby Gallery’s “Play Date,” from back left to front right: The Visitor 1, 2022. Acrylic on foam board, 9′ x 4′ x 4′; The Visitor 11, 2022. Acrylic on form board, canvas, 5′ x 3′ x 3′; The Visitor 8, 2022. Acrylic on foam board, aluminum foil, 6′ x 3.5′ x 3.5′.
Scattered across the gallery floor, Arch’s assemblages wedge together like Lego pieces or building blocks. This creates a feeling of ever-fluctuation, tapping into a childlike desire to reconstruct, rebuild, or fit pieces together in new ways to create new objects. Most of Arch’s larger sculptures belong to her “The Visitor” series, an apt title as these units sit on wheels. The presence of wheels furthers that sense of active process—a restless, vital movement. The sculptures can also feel industrial—the arrangement of various parts fitted together like the makeup of a machine. Openings throughout the sculptures, like pores, breathe air into the work. Yet the pieces primarily express attitude through bright colors and commingling patterns. Polka dots feel flirty, and dripping paint creates an innate post-play-date cleanup scenario.
In contrast, Hart’s sculpture-paintings have an earthy, pillowy character. She leads with a bold spirit of inquiry—one of the wall pieces is called Esrup, a palindrome for the object it reimagines. Hart defies mediums as she fills canvas with fiber to give her paintings sculptural dimension. The pieces are soft, textural, visceral. Further, she creates pieces that blur into the physical space; some pieces continue to the floor, or beyond the canvas onto the walls—extra pools of delight. One of them holds a potted plant. Her thesis is clear in the pieces’ names, among them Inside Out: Redefining the Boundaries and Reimagining the Line Within and Out.
Jai Hart, Spring Fling, 2022. Acrylic on canvas and poly-fil, 72″ x 81″ x 8″.
Hart’s sense of play extends beyond the character of her pieces; it guides her technical process. She expresses mood through energized color and amalgams of patterns. More dots and loose, abstract shapes create a natural dialogue with Arch’s pieces. Although deliberate and technically rigorous, Arch’s and Hart’s works can feel raw and instinctive, unpretentious, the strokes a little haphazard, the texture of the sculptures a little rough. The pieces are charged with gestural ingenuity, imbuing a sense of the artists’ presence.
Hart and Arch defy the limits of their mediums, creating works that pulsate with creativity and imagination. Paintings enter space, and sculptures become little houses. “Play Date” honors instinct, the inner-fifth grader that questions standards and regulations in pursuit of freedom and empowered self-expression. Hart and Arch dance in these questions, generating a tender new world of possibility.
Adria Arch’s and Jai Hart’s “Play Date” is on view at Nearby Gallery through June 7.
Maya Rubio is editorial assistant at Boston Art Review and project assistant at art_works.