There are a number of opposite forces contending in James von Minor's paintings, now on view at Nye Gomez Gallery, and they work best when all those forces are in balance.
There's two-dimensionality vs. three-dimensionality, both in terms of illusion of depth and literally. These are three dimensional paintings built out in two or more levels of canvas stretched over wood with occasionally one or more painted balls set into the composition as an added three-dimensional element.
There is the geometry of simple shapes -- chevron, triangle, rectangle, sphere -- vs. von Minor's gestural way with paint, which creates a tension between the dynamic and the static on these surfaces: the composition tends to be a stabilizing force, while the gesture and the color of paint create a kind of contrapuntal activity.
There's the symmetrical vs. the asymmetrical. In a typical von Minor painting there are going to be elements of both, as well as elements that can act as both depending on how you see them or what else you compare them with in the same work.
And there's the abstract vs. the representational. Though these are essentially abstract paintings, they contain elements that appear to represent something in the world, such as arches, and the balls are actual objects.
It is possible to see a number of influences at work on these paintings -- Matisse, Nevelson and Diebenkorn have all been cited, for instance; but their surfaces bring to mind Jasper Johns, and they are most successful when they achieve, a la Johns, the most elegance and finish.
In "Collocation #25" all aspects of the painting including the conversation among colors (principally red and black) conspire to create an especially satisfying whole. "Tight Pink Ball" achieves an effective play between geometry of design and organic fluidity of paint. "Sighting Device" possesses an almost overt emotionalism in its contrast of the somber tone of the lower part of the painting and the joyous, sunburst-like pinks above.
Von Minor can go astray, too. "Collocation #35" looks as if it had not been completely thought out but had just stopped short of its best development. "Bomblets," on the other hand, is too neat for its own good; it's impossible to look at the two diagonally placed quadrangles joined at one corner and not think of a pair of short pants, which makes the whole thing faintly risible.
When von Minor hits it right, though, his paintings have a combination of visual appeal and mental stimulation that's quite refreshing.
In the front or office gallery are recent monotypes, almost all black and white, by H. Ed Smith. These do nice things with light, dark and movement, and exist in some limbo between the totally abstract and the recognizable that makes them a fitting neighbor to von Minor's work.
The show runs through June 20 at Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St. Call (410) 752-2080.