A Botanical Bent

By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent. August 5, 2009

Mown into a Softness, 2009

Mown into a Softness, 2009

The three artists in “Deviant Specimens” at Howard Yezerski Gallery all turn a scrutinizing lens on plants. Amanda Means places plants directly on her enlarger and shines light on them, making photograms. The paper is the least exposed where the subjects are the most dense. So the chrysanthemum in the remarkable “Flower (Number 86)” has delicate, shadowy outer petals, but it is palest at the center and seems to glow from within.

The nuance of shadow, light, and texture is breathtaking in Gary Schneider’s black-and-white tabletop still lifes, pigment prints made from negatives he shot about 20 years ago. In “Chestnut and Fig Leaf,” the leaf looks cinnamon-dusted. It’s only the bottom half of the leaf, with the stem pointing up, in this carefully composed image. The gnarled, spiky chestnuts – startlingly ugly – seem to float in space around it, thanks to the table’s reflective sheen.

Steve Miller traveled to the Amazon, where he plucked plants, took them to a hospital in Sao Paulo, and X-rayed them. The images are ghostly, but Miller doesn’t stop there. He makes silkscreen prints over scans of the X-rays. In “Mown Into Softness,” we see the delicate flowers twisting like black fishnet stockings beneath an explosive print of a pink flower and painterly passages of yellow. It’s as if we’re seeing two iterations of the plant – one spectral, the other all gaudy color.

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