Painting nature without succumbing to treacly moralizing is a tricky proposition few artists manage to pull off. There's nothing sentimental about David Bungay's paintings of the great outdoors, but his work is extremely emotional. Reducing nature to a vocabulary of simple forms and cartoon archetypes, Bungay's colorful paintings chirp with a bright, artificial quality that jibes with National Geographic's glossy conception of the wilderness but is distinctly at odds with any deeper understanding of the laws of the universe. Bungay reminds us of those harsher realities in ways that are sometimes subtle, other times not. In "Out of the Blue," he depicts an antlered stag with a gun sight tattooed on its hide, while "Snow Ghost" finds a flock of geese on the wing merging together to form the image of a ghost.
Bungay puts a cynical edge on paintings that could easily turn to mush by presenting them in frames painted with kitsch patterning (a painting of a bear, for instance, is presented in a frame patterned with bear tracks), but that cavalier turn does little to disguise the gentle sensibility at work here. Bungay's melancholia almost turns to tears in a quietly disturbing painting titled "Lake" presenting a shimmering blue lake lit from behind so that it takes on the appearance of one of those Hamm's Beer signs installed over the jukebox at the corner bar. Like Hamm's vision of paradise, Bungay's painting reminds the viewer of just how far he is from the land of sky blue waters.
Also on view are mixed-media abstractions by David Shapiro involving paper, gauze and acrylic. Built around an enigmatic alphabet of symbols--circles, spirals, dots--the work takes a minute to click into focus, but once it has it resonates with spiritual grace. Like music by Steve Reich, Shapiro's work combines concepts of Eastern mysticism with theories developed by the Modernist avant-garde, and his stunningly handsome pictures alternately take on the appearance of Samurai banners, Tibetan prayer cloths, kimonos and flags. (Jan Turner Gallery, 8000 Melrose Ave., to June 27.)