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Portraits and Perception: At Gallery VERY, Familiar Faces Line the Walls of “PERSONA”

Installation view, “PERSONA,” Gallery VERY, Boston. On view through September 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Gallery VERY.

On the opening night of “PERSONA,” Gallery VERY was awash with familiar faces. Old friends caught up on the gallery’s well-worn couches while a flutter of intergenerational dialogues cropped up between students and professors, mentors and mentees. Though this convivial atmosphere suggested a well-connected crowd, even a newcomer could quickly get their bearings. Afterall, the subjects of the show’s multimedia portraits appeared that night in double, both on the wall and milling through the bustling, warmly lit space.

“PERSONA” is an exhibition of work by seven artists prompted to explore the tension between surface appearances and the interior self. Bunny Correia’s dreamy gouache portraits of himself and his partner open the exhibit. The subject of Jon Doucette’s drawing This Album is for Nighttime arrived at the event in the same outfit he wore while sitting for the piece. Meanwhile, Colleen Kiely’s looming, whispery portraits evade identification, portraying imagined figures that feel pulled from a deeply sublimated state.

Most of the show’s subjects directly regard the viewer, each figure perceiving just as closely as it is being perceived. The effect of this interplay is at times unnerving and at times uniquely intimate. In Kevin Foley’s black-and-white portrait Adam, the title figure smiles softly at a space just beyond the camera. A sense of trust pervades.

Kevin Foley, Adam, 2014. Archival gelatin silver print. 20″ x 16″. Photo courtesy of Gallery VERY.

“PERSONA” marks a departure from VERY’s typical lineup. Whereas past exhibitions highlighted mid-career artists, many of those featured here are under thirty years old. There is a frenetic, searching quality to the portraits of this younger camp. In Mae-Chu O’Connell’s video portrait Makeup Tool Tutorial, the artist uses hammers, razor blades, and screwdrivers to apply a full face of makeup. Here, the process of self-construction is both visceral and mechanical, dream-like and concrete. Anchored by the self-possessed works of the show’s more seasoned artists, these pieces serve as portals into the tenuous process of identity-making, within and beyond each artist’s inner world.

Though VERY opened its doors as a gallery in 2016, founder John Guthrie has maintained a studio in the 59 Wareham Street building since 1992. Like his meticulously composed geometric paintings, the curation of “PERSONA” is exacting but not precious—the range of artists and their mediums feel somehow representative of the many pockets of Boston’s art scene. There’s a democratic sense of balance in the intrigue and intimacy of the portraits and the ways in which they’re hung. Each subject felt like a friend you’d like to meet, and in a place like VERY, that just might be possible.

Installation view, “PERSONA,” Gallery VERY, Boston. On view through September 9, 2023. (top) Jon Doucette, Sav, 2022. Oil and pastel on unprimed wood. 16″ x 12″. (bottom) Jon Doucette, Bartender Said I Have Great Teeth But Look Like Sid From Toy Story, 2022. Oil pastel on board. 16″ x 20″. Photo courtesy of Gallery VERY.

PERSONA” features works by Bunny Correia, Jon Doucette, Kevin Foley, Colleen Kiely, Mae-Chu O’Connell, Jameel Radcliffe, and Brooke Stewart. The exhibition is view at Gallery VERY until September 9 with gallery hours on Saturdays from 1:00–5:00 PM and by appointment.

Poppy Livingstone is a writing fellow at Boston Art Review.