Domenic Cretara is a transplanted Bostonian who paints themes of uncontrolled passion and violence in a style reminiscent of the Baroque masters. It is this predilection for reviving old historical styles that proves to be the work’s chief superficial attraction and its ultimate conceptual undoing. By taking a vital, contemporary subject such as rape and enveloping it in the shrouds of painterly revivalism, Cretara merely directs attention away from its very real psycho-sexual and political import and shifts it towards insidious high art irony and egotistical technical bravura.

Instead of the dramatic viewer-image relationship that Cretara so desires, we are all too aware of an attempt to appropriate the techniques and arcane symbolism of an era whose time has passed. Rather than assert “pre-modern heroic values in an unmistakably modernist voice,” as the artist claims, the work becomes an allegory for a moribund Catholic moralism, an attempt to dredge up the didactic ghosts of the Counter-Reformation while simultaneously acknowledging the existence of a modernist discourse via self-referential, manneristic flourishes. Violence is not the subject here. It is the painter as wry spiritual seer, and Cretara plays the role to the hilt.

Local pattern painter Sandra Sallin makes her solo debut in the rear gallery with a series of iconic depictions of overlapping tree branches on gold leaf backgrounds. Meticulously rendered in vivid detail on Gothic and Romanesque-shaped canvases, the works attempt to fuse a Baroque decorative sensibility with the metaphorical “spirituality” of nature. Despite her remarkable command of painterly technique, the works boil down to simplistic exercises in Romantic symbolism. At this stage of the theoretical game, we are far too leery of received information to take this sort of art-historical manipulation very seriously. (Koplin Gallery, 8225 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd., to May 2.)