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Boston Globe

Flying Solo

By Cate McQuaid

October 10, 2003

David Scanavino, fresh out of grad school at Yale, has his first solo show at Gallery Katz. This painter’s after beauty, and he achieves it with a simple formula that combines opposites.

He paints balloons on large canvases. Each, at 4 feet by 5 feet, has the airy balloon, filled with veils of light and color, set on a solid, textured ground. The many contrasts between the border and the balloon make these paintings soar. The balloon refers to a portrait, so there’s an idea of gazing at a mirror but also of looking into a window. Scanavino applies the paint to the central shape so it looks like ink dispersing in water, with shifting clouds and shadows and a sense of illumination from within.

The pure surface vitality of the borders, rough with flat-toned or reflective paint, adds to the sense of depth within each balloon. The colors also contrast: an eternal, luminous blue balloon set on a greenish yellow; bubblegum pink against gold.

The spookiest piece sets a black balloon against a black border. It’s also the most portraitlike; the mouth of the balloon gets lost in the black-on-black. Our instinct is to see the solid black of a head against the deeper, paler black of a background, but Scanavino serves up the opposite, with layered airiness within the head shape and solidity surrounding it. It’s subtler than the other works, which succeed in their smart formula and accomplished execution. The black piece introduces an unnerving psychology to the mix.