Jason Craighead and Tricia McKellar’s Microcosm/ Macrocosm
Miriam Preston Block Gallery, Avery C. Upchurch Government ComplexFrom the balcony of artist Jason Craighead’s studio/apartment, you can view the skyline of downtown Raleigh. His paintings reference this view, but not in a literal way. One would be hard-pressed to make a direct correlation between Craighead’s art and the cityscape. But the imprint is there in Craighead’s spatial mapping, in his insistent gestural layering of painted and pencil-drawn lines, which are in turn layered and brushed over with pale washes that read as fog or atmosphere, a tangible exploration of the idea of air and space. Craighead builds his paintings intuitively, an active improvisational process in which he transitions between painterly handling of color and working the painting’s surface as a kind of pencil-scrawled sketch pad. Drips come into play to form a randomized matrix of raised lines that generates a superstrata of meaning in the work. Craighead’s earlier pieces tended toward muted, washed-out surfaces with architectural passages emerging at the edges. His recent paintings retain that lineage but pop with surprising bursts of turquoise, bamboo green and deep orange. Also, the sensitive pencil markings are still there, but they give way to bolder, thicker passes done in oil pastel or acrylic, suggesting bridges, girders and sometimes the impression of partially graffitied walls. Nine new works by Craighead will be on view as part of Microcosm/ Macrocosm. The exhibit opens Feb. 1 and will also feature digital collages and mixed media art prints by Tricia McKellar. McKellar traffics in contrasting imagery. Her impulse is pattern regeneration. Expect insects, machinery and found diagrams inhabiting the same constructed surfaces. Amy White

Microcosm/ Macrocosm opens with poetry readings and a reception tonight from 5-7 p.m. and runs through March 13. The Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex is located at 222 W. Hargett St. in Raleigh. For more info, call 890-3610. This show is part of the Municipal Building Art Exhibitions presented by the City of Raleigh Arts Commission.

Chapel Hill
Nina Nastasia
Local 506Nina Nastasia is worried about the Christmas tree filling her tiny Manhattan apartment. Now, in late January, it’s dried, so it must be dismembered to fit through the door. That task belongs to her boyfriend, Kennan Gudjonsson, the unseen force behind Natasia’s evocative songcraft.

“He has a lot to do with arrangements,” Nastasia explains, indicating thatthough Gudjonsson prefers big Christmas treeshe prefers less-crowded songs. “I get so excited hearing a song really big with everybody playing at once because I’ve been playing it in my bathroom, and I’ve only heard it with myself and this boring guitar part. So when everybody’s playing, it’s hard for me to shape it in a smart way. Kennan’s really great at telling people not to play. It keeps it very spare.”

Spare’s a watchword frequently used to describe Nastasia’s albums. While featuring eclectic instrumentation that contributes to a rich tone, the songs exist in a shadowy, haunted place. Nastasia’s vocals sit lightly, like a squatter.

Last year’s You Follow Me manages to maintain its austere construction despite the busy trap work of the only other musician involved, drummer Jim White (Dirty Three, Cat Power). “I wanted it to sound full and have Jim really take on the role of a band. He’s definitely qualified,” she says. Recorded by Steve Albini (like much of her catalog), the vibrant intimacy is epitomized by the audible finger action on the strings of “Odd Said the Doe,” like a dramatic close-up that echoes the song’s theme of trust and surrender. Similarly, on “Our Discussion,” White’s chaotic, off-time drumming counterpoints Nastasia’s dulcet guitar figure and pretty vocal melodythe rhythmic tumult offering subtext to the singer’s distance.

“As I get older, I just don’t want any hassle,” she says, back to Christmas trees. “My boyfriend likes to get a huge tree, and all I can do is think about taking it down. That kind of sums me up. I think about taking it down while we’re shopping for it.” Chris Parker

Nina Nastasia plays Local 506 Friday, Feb. 1, at 9:30 p.m. The Physics of Meaning opens. Tickets are $8.

Michael Rank & Marc E. Smith with Bringerer
The CaveSnatches of Pink isn’t known for its restraint. But here we have two core members doing an acoustic set, retooling their wham-bam, all-caps, rock ‘n’ roll sound into a simmer instead of the expected and experienced Thunders/ Richards cacophony. That’s not to say they’re incapable of subtleties, at all. Don’t forget some of the best Stones songs, a definite parallel in texture here, are slowed-down burners.

Speaking of reinvention, local Bringerer is still kickin’, and has some recent songs to boot. Since the band started out six years ago, it’s explored territory both delicate and nearly uncontrolled. That it’s been plundering these sounds in other previous outfits like Zen Frisbee, Pipe and William Christ Supercar doesn’t hurt either. Friday night, Rank and Smith play early, and Bringerer plays late. Chris Toenes