Yevgeniya Baras: Untitled, 2016, oil on canvas, 16 by 20 inches; at Nicelle Beauchene.

Yevgeniya Baras’s “All Inside of Itself, Close” was the artist’s second solo exhibition in New York and her first with Nicelle Beauchene. Displaying tight compositions and keyed-up color, the fourteen untitled paintings on view (all 2016) demonstrate a significant leap from the pieces in her first solo show, at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in 2015.

The new works (most no larger than twenty-five inches on a side) are thick with colorful garlands of oil paint and have the presence of wrapped gifts. Baras built up their stuccolike surfaces in layers; to many of the canvases she attached pieces of wood and gnarly bits of material, producing an irregular support for the paint. Her abstract imagery has an organic, mystical quality. The compositions feature hot colors over cool grounds, and scrawled markings that recall runes, children’s drawing, or graffiti. In one work, bright orange lines and squiggles read as primeval depictions of energy, while pink, blue, and red forms resemble lava lamp blobs; there is a pleasurable confusion as to where the support—a canvas affixed with triangular wood pieces—ends and the paint begins. 

Holes in two of the canvases underscore the paintings’ objecthood and counter any sense of preciousness that the small scale of Baras’s work might suggest. Baras also plays up the three-dimensionality of the canvases by painting their sides or, in some instances, rendering the compositions on their versos. In one work, a wood frame is attached to the front of the canvas; wavy, looping red and blue lines meander around the canvas and up onto the wood, which is painted pinkish brown and notched with marks suggesting the surface of bark. Forrest Bess’s symbolic landscapes in dark, weathered frames come readily to mind, though here the conceit of painting wood patterning on real pieces of wood provides a subtle touch of humor. 

Some of Baras’s painted passages read as portrayals of natural phenomena like weather patterns, mountains, and planets. The feathery brushwork evokes that of the American visionary Charles Burchfield. Yet for all their swirling colors and eccentric pictorial space, the paintings have a curious stillness. It is as if the energy put into them crystallized too quickly into aesthetic realization.  

When Baras enters territory closer to sculpture, her works have a livelier, fresher feel, as seen in the two shaped canvases on view—a wonky trapezoid and a craggy, shieldlike form. These pieces have an almost jigsaw quality, their compositions made up of various clearly defined areas of color. Two red lozenge shapes in the trapezoidal work seem talismanic, as if they offer “evil eye” protection. Both of the shaped canvases display less obsessive handiwork than that of the other pieces, and they function simultaneously as energetic surfaces and solid objects.

With today’s rampant image-sharing culture, painters too often focus on making photogenic compositions. There’s something refreshing about Baras’s tactile approach to her medium. She can be viewed in the context of a cross-generational community of painters, including Chris Martin and Katherine Bradford, whose work playfully combines early American modernism and so-called outsider art while demonstrating a belief in paint as a material that can transcend pictorial representation.