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Earnest youth and comic book crewel at Spector


If you’re not familiar with the portraits of Rebecca Westcott, you can see them this month at Spector Gallery.

Westcott’s portraits of young adults–her crowd–against fairly blank backgrounds capture their earnestness, their tentativeness, and their everyday clothes. Unlike Elizabeth Peyton, who’s working the same age group and paints only the cool, flattened stares of languid youth posing for Ralph Lauren, Westcott gets personal.

I also like the contrast between traditional portraiture–of people who can pay for their likenesses–and these pictures of the young, not-yet-successful who are still a little unformed (like the backgrounds) and finding their way in the world. Most portraits of young people come out of art school, practice ventures for the artist-in-training. But these are accomplished paintings with a point of view.

In the back room are the unusual three-dimensional embroideries by Xiang Yang. Xiang sews using a crewel technique through bowl-shaped plastic takeout containers so the same cartoony image is on the front and back. Inside the container, between the two images is the linking part of the thread, which creates a kind of stretch image that brings up comicbook and cartoon representations of speed.

The work raises the issues of how a 2-D representation distorts 3-D and just what dimensionality is. The elongated images remind me of wooden jigsaw pieces, the flat front image taking on a thickness that makes not a lot of sense to the eye.

I couldn’t help but wonder about the labor involved in these pieces. What if two stitches are too close to one another, and create a too-big hole? How about the effort of keeping the two images totally parallel on a surface that curves? But I love the materials–the weird plastic bowls, the embroidery thread that usually implies a fussy, decorative motif, not the comics.

Both shows are worth a visit.