Abstractionists love grids, stripes, and frames, but not just as no-arguments-allowed signifiers of order. As several current shows demonstrate, these containing, regimenting devices are often the starting point (or else the counterpoint) for the opposites of order: chance, disintegration, and disruption.
Stephen Ellis makes at once sumptuous and austere paintings in which exuberance and containment are at constant loggerheads. Though his vertical and horizontal lines emphasize hierarchy and geometry, their hard edges are mitigated by signs of the originating hand, creating a mix of order and spontaneity familiar in a kilim.
But the art form Mr. Ellis's paintings most recall (and the condition they aspire to) is photography: There is gesture and texture in his work, but these are sealed away beneath layers of alkyd, the resin medium he favors. This photo-like quality explains the coldness that accompanies his painterly passion, the sense of gestures as fleeting moments caught mechanically and then emulsified.
Mr. Ellis's last show, made in the wake of September 11, 2001, was grimly elegiac in its black and white tones. But color has returned: Here, Mr. Ellis turns up the volume with a chirpy, citric palette.
Red, orange, and purple abound in "Untitled (SEVL-05-5)" (2005). A washy, gestural orange base made in his trademark, slurpy rag roll reads calligraphically, filling lines with its handwriting. Imposed upon this is an irregular close-up goalpost-like form in vermillion, a central horizontal beam supporting lower and upper pairs of verticals. Then, constituting a top layer, two trapezoids in purple and black looking like smudged photographs are disposed like accent marks. From the description, the work sounds busy, but the prevailing mood in Mr. Ellis's dense paintings is containment, if not repression.
Stephen Westfall likes to take the grid for a walk. Straight lines are allowed little liberties that animate what would otherwise be dutifully minimal demarcations.
"Dark and Bright" (2006), a 2-footsquare canvas, has a tic-tac-toe grid of blue-black bars on a light cerulean ground in which the cross-sections cheat fractionally, as do the thinner white crosses within each blue square, sending a shimmer along the gridlines. "Jerome" (2006) does something similar with horizontal layers of colors; in each successive layer, the grouting is determined by the color of the layer below. Mr. Westfall's color belongs to the nursery in its good cheer and jocular juxtaposition; in terms of sophisticated usage, though, it is very grown-up.
There is often remarkable variety in a Westfall exhibition, and this show is no exception. In fact, the eclecticism is almost disturbing in Lennon, Weinberg's claustrophobic new Chelsea quarters (he used to bask in the magnificence of their old SoHo home).
"El Norte" (2006) is a seemingly random array of little squares on a white ground that recalls Damien Hirst's spot paintings. "Winslow" (2005) is a regatta-like flutter of triangular flags. "Orchard Street" (2006) is a cacophonous patchwork worthy of Jonathan Lasker in its brazenness. "Look Around" (2006) almost induces eye-burn with its underlying blackand-white alternating lines peeping through rectangular framing outlines of red, blue, green, and yellow.
"Speedway" (2006) is a rectangular grid of 12 sections made up of three colors, each presented in a different hue. The grid is then presented in what comes across as interior space: There is a light blue background, with a darker gray strip at the bottom of the canvas to suggest a floor. It is the most perspectival painting among this group, and the only one that really takes up the almost realist tease seen in some of the best paintings in his last show, in 2003.
Initially, the work of Marjorie Welish imparts a certain severity, with its prim diagrammatic compositions and thinlipped painterly touch. But given time, a delicacy and humor - even whimsy - comes across, although systemic logic remains the order of the day.
Her paintings, generally 20 inches by 26 inches or 18 inches by 20 inches, with acrylic and ink on panels, are all diptychs. But it might be more accurate to describe them as "split," as they give the definite impression of being single compositions divided into two parts rather than two parts brought together to form a whole.This might seem a pedantic point, but Ms. Welish is a critic, theorist, and poet much taken with linguistics, and such structural questions are essential rather than incidental to her work.
Her motifs are constructive in that they use the schematic language of architectural plans. The painterly is therefore radically divorced from the linear. In the nine works from her "Blueprint" (2002-06) series, installed here in a random salon hang, the light blue areas of solid color, applied with slight agitation and irregular edges, exist in counterpoint to the neat, graphic, black-on-white boxes and grid marks.
At her own instigation, Ms. Welish is sharing this show with the Swiss abstract painter Helmut Federle, who much more robustly than Ms. Welish conveys conceptual rigor and painterly sumptuousness simultaneously. His "Legion XVII" (1997), made of rough yet rhythmic green and black horizontal stripes, has an invigorating mix of the earthy and the utopian, as if it were an Agnes Martin painted for her by Sickert.
In contrast to Mr. Ellis, Mr.Westfall, and Ms. Welish, Ben La Rocco lets rip a joyful, youthful, exuberant sensibility. His titles give a clear indication of where his heart lies: "Jester," "Flip," "Coney Island of the Mind." He has a love of modernist primary shapes, grids, and geometric patterns. But they are dispatched with a gutsy urgency, an insolent bravura.
Mr. La Rocco has been known to paint on the reverse side of canvases; to punch a great hole through an otherwise politely behaved loop painting (and then hang it with light switches exposed through the hole); to hang works with one side right up against a wall. And he has a lot of fun with metal brackets.
In "Coney Island of the Mind" (2006), he has pinned a bracket on a nicely painted arrangement of wobbly-edged rectangles in a seemingly random, disruptive way that artfully isolates a border between red and green. This suggests that at a moment's notice, the lyrical aesthete in Mr. La Rocco can take over from the rambunctious theorist.
Ellis until April 29 (555 W. 25th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-242-0599). Prices: $12,000-$27,000.Westfall until April 22 (514 W. 25th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-941-0012). Prices: $7,000-$20,000. Welish and Federle until April 12 (522 W. 24th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-242-4514). Prices for Welish: $6,500. Prices for Federle: $45,000-$60,000. La Rocco until April 15 (205 Norman Avenue at Humbolt Street, 718-383-9380). Prices: $1,200-$4,000.