Diana Bloomfield and Donald Furst
Adam Cave Fine Art
Through March 28

Casey Cook’s Puncture
Lump Gallery
Through March 26

After a bitter winter, spring has graced the Triangle, which means daffodils, forsythia and new art in Raleigh’s galleries. Before the blossoms and fresh air lure you out into the sun, take in some of the beautiful, obsessive artwork currently on display.

Adam Cave Fine Art is showing a pair of image-makers, Diana Bloomfield and Donald Furst, whose processes inform their works with mysterious qualities that will move you to want to become an initiate.

Diana Bloomfield‘s pinhole and alternative-process photography endows her subjects with a hyperrealism. Many of the images are the result of a multicolor gum bichromate process that dates to the 1850s and produces a unique print. This processwhich can take daysis similar to offset printing. She brushes an emulsion containing watercolor pigment onto paper, exposes it with a separation negative, develops it and then does it again, layering a different color.

Bloomfield reveals this process in a stunning quartet of portraits of pinned moths and flies. The insects appear neatly within a white square, around which Bloomfield’s emulsion brushstrokes are left visible. This chaotic rainbow perimeter plays foil to the calm images of the perfectly spread luna moth and damselfly, transforming them into kept secrets. A slight imprecision in registration of the colors lends an animate blur to the nocturnal moth, which must vibrate its wings to heat up its flight muscles in the absence of radiant sunlight.

Bloomfield also uses a complicated “platinum over pigment” process, which is explained on a lengthy gallery sheet. But the technical information isn’t necessary to admire the work. It’s her compositional eye in “Winter Kudzu” that recognizes a fascinating undulation in the leafless mesh of vines on bare trees. The platinum gives a radiant Polaroid darkness to the print, which plays up the threatening nature of the viral, ubiquitous plant.

Donald Furst‘s engravings and lithography glow with dreamlike potential but resist surrealism. The perspective of his interiors is located in a darkened room that includes an open door to a lighted hallway. Or the image vanishes into a darkening passageway that dimly reveals a corner at its depth. Every doorway permits a swath of light in, which allows Furst to show his virtuosic skill at achieving gradations of gray.

Neither claustrophobic nor creepy, these empty rooms and disappearing corridors are more like being locked in an M.C. Escher office building overnight than stuck in a cyclical David Lynch set. Upon scrutiny, an elaborate mirror trick is perceptible in “Echolalia,” giving the sense of infinite iteration. But in a vitreograph titled “Strive? II,” steps terminate in blind walls, and suspended disintegrating ladders lead nowhere. The meditative precision of Furst’s process becomes slightly anxious in several miniature mezzotints only a couple of inches wide.

Currently the chair of the departments of art and art history at UNC-Wilmington, where he has taught since 1985, Furst possesses an astounding intaglio repertoire. His 13 images include woodcuts, mezzotints, lithographs and etchings. The woodcut “Higher Than” merits a visit all by itself. Put your nose an inch from its surface and scrutinize the detail in an area of treetops from which hewn ladders protrude. Then pick your lower jaw up from the floor.

After peering into the intense details of the prints at Adam Cave, you’ll be briefly relieved to enter Lump’s open space for Casey Cook‘s multimedia installation Puncture. But then you’ll hear the sound. A hidden source in the darkened alcove at the back of the gallery produces a repetitive, incessant creaking. What is it? Once you look around and notice Cook’s obsessive knife theme in a variety of media, the creaking suddenly sounds more sinister.

This show comes from Cook’s December 2010 residency in Saint Barth and expresses both the joy of that creative opportunity as well as a discomfort with it. In the main space, Cook has hung 32 different knife shapes made of white coat-hanger wire in two long rows, comprising a piece titled “Slit.” Lit perfectly, the immaculately executed knives both threaten and fascinate. I was tempted to try to identify them allcleaver, putty knife, shiv, serrated bread knife, army knife with brass knuckles in the handlebut the sheer variety of uses overwhelmed me.

Back in the alcove, you discover a pair of two-to-three-minute video loops that are the heart of the installation, lending it a slightly off, obsessive glee. “Saturday”the source of the creaking sound (spoiler alert!)is projected on a wall. The sound turns out to be cheap bedsprings suffering beneath a jumper visible only to the knees. “I Will Cut You,” playing on a television propped in the corner on the floor, shows the artist’s reflected face as she toys excruciatingly with a knife in her mouth, baring her teeth, sucking on the blade, drawing it across her tongueand making a pig’s nose with it, laughing. The videos call to mind something akin to what Bonnie might have done to pass the time before Clyde picked her up to go out on a spree.

Puncture is an arcane but affecting show. I would have liked to see Cook use the room better. Her white neon knife outline “The Grand Fond” felt particularly isolated in a corner, drawing my eyes to the untapped potential of the ceiling and floor. I was hoping there would be more of a gauntlet for me to run to get back to the hidden audio source.

Check the Independent‘s Artery blog this week for a review of Jason Whitman’s pencil menagerie at Rebus Works.