Beauty Tips
Becca Albee
Lump Gallery
Through May 31

There are probably as many ideas about how to “do-it-yourself” as there are concepts of beauty. This is readily apparent in the show now on view at Lump.

For several years now, New York artist Becca Albee has been asking for beauty tips from friends, family, distant acquaintances and gallery goers. From each tip, she creates a unique photograph; the resulting work is often a collaboration with the tipster.

What’s particularly engaging about her ongoing project is the tremendous variety in her output. There are a few images that represent the theme quite literally. For instance, an artist known simply as Lucy has contributed a tip that seems straight out of a beauty contest manual. It contains useful instruction on setting one’s makeup by keeping it on while in the bathtub (a la Bianca Jagger, she is careful to note) and the concomitant photograph is a portrait of the artist as a young cosmetics diva soaking in a tub of bubbles. Likewise, Melissa Ip’s suggestion results in a straightforward glimpse of Ip in a bathroom mirror contemplating personal prettification, involving conditioners and moisturizers.

Apart from the literal visualizations, there are a number of images that veer off in intriguing directions and give the show its edge, but most of the photographs still grapple with the issue of portraiture in some fundamental way. There are several pictures that take a more metaphorical stance, such as the one accompanying a beauty tip provided by Rashanna Rashied-Walker. In this case, the photo was made with the camera looking up into the canopy of a tree; the moment of the camera flash gives many of the leaves an ashen appearance. Walker’s tip appears as more of an admonition: “Take time to wonder and wander,” it says, and there are many other similarly therapeutic admonitions in the series. These more abstract notions of what might constitute a beauty tip make us consider the broader issue of personal convictions and philosophy, forcing us to consider ourselves and our outlook on the world. At times, the show feels like a self-improvement workshop your significant other signed you up for without your knowledge and insisted you attend. While you appreciate the thought, it isn’t necessarily the kind of self-improvement you were looking for.

Animal Farm
Nathaniel Hester
Adam Cave Fine Art
Through June 14

Nathaniel Hester channels Henri Matisse from the studio on his farm in Person County. From the available evidence, the artist’s relocation to the countrysidecomplete with a few farm animalshas had a direct, beneficial impact on his art.

His latest show is an exploration of abstract composition, in the context of a colorful animal portrait series. An accomplished printmaker and painter, Hester uses the serigraph (a type of screen print) as his chosen medium for this series, and he has employed a collage-like technique of layering blocks and swaths of colormuch as Matisse did in his late collage cutouts. Because serigraphs demand that each color be laid on with individual screen passes, there are strong similarities to collage in the printing process. Just as the French artist’s use of scissors and colored paper freed up his method of creating form, Hester lets his serigraphs liberate compositional elements so that they interact with their background andmost effectivelyeach other in lively and compelling ways.

With these prints, Hester experiments with expectations of what any given animal’s portrait might look like (or not) while at the same time exploring its distinctive natural qualities. His abstractions are sometimes extreme enough that the viewer is challenged to find a visual connection between animal and picture. Some images in the series, such as “Flamingo,” reference the namesake in color with only the slightest anatomical hints. Works like “Chicken” and “Moth” are even more minimal and utilize hovering Rothko-esque planes of color. To Hester’s credit, he avoids taking on clichés of animal caricature and instead makes intelligent use of various oddities in his subjects, such as unexpected greens in his “Giraffe” and a very human-like visage in “Owl.” When looking at these pictures, it’s useful to keep in mind some aspect of the animal’s fundamental nature: perhaps writhing and curving for “Snake” and brilliant coloration and segmentation for “Caterpillar.” This is an effective starting point in engaging the work on its own terms. These images are not about unerring representation; ultimately, it is Hester’s keen sense of composition and knowing when to say when that keep the work accessible and under control.