Spark Gallery, the city's oldest co-op, is hosting a pair of intelligent and complementary solo shows, Sue Simon: How Many? and Foci: Photographs by Barbara Carpenter.

Simon, a former scientific illustrator, has created a group of abstract paintings that vary widely in appearance even though they are apparently all part of a single series. Taken collectively, they are intended to serve both as an artist's self-portrait and as a universal portrait of all people.

The series is based on the human genome and its components, including proteins, amino acids, chromosomes and cells. According to Simon's informative statement, the genome is a long sequence of DNA, which comprises "the instructions for making a person."

One of the most unusual paintings in the series is "Many" (above), a blue tondo in acrylic on canvas that suggests the starry sky -- a good image, given that Simon's point here is that the human brain has more connections than there are stars in the universe.

Barbara Carpenter is not so much interested in science as she is in sociology -- at least broadly speaking -- and she's a photographer, not a painter. In these recent color photographs, she addresses the waste of the junkyard. The photos are close-ups, so they appear to be completely abstract; if Carpenter hadn't tipped us off in the wall text as to her chosen setting, we wouldn't necessarily know where she took the photos.

As always, Carpenter's images are perfectly composed and crisply rendered in absolute focus, and the colors are vivid and striking. With work such as this and the related pieces she's done over the past ten years, it's a wonder Carpenter isn't better known -- or, even more mysterious -- better shown. Low profile or not, she is one of the best contemporary photographers in the city.

On Sunday, November 10, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Spark, Simon and Carpenter will present "Coffee With the Artists," during which they will discuss their work. Their interesting solo shows close at 5 p.m. that same day.


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