If you’ve seen as much artwork as I have over the years, you begin to see patterns emerge, which can sometimes cross over into sameness. On the other hand, the nuances of each artist’s unique voice — a flourish of some strange color or unusual shape — can rescue a painting from the doom of mediocrity. So can a standard technique done exceedingly well. Some abstract paintings, for instance, move us inexplicably, even if the artist isn’t breaking aesthetic ground. All this brings us to Mark Sharp. The Chicago artist represents an effort on the part of Shawn Miller, co-owner of 4 Star Gallery, to bring emerging artists from around the country into the mix of locally based ones. Artists in the classical modes (and here I include abstraction) may have their own voice, but most don’t challenge the medium in any profound way. This is largely left to the conceptual artists, who are more inclined to move the intellect than the heart. Sharp is of the former variety. His work is pleasing, even lovely at times. But where I’m moved is not in his academic expertise, his facility with color, which tends to carry a neutral or toned down edge, or his layering of shapes and geometric gestures over thick spaces of color. I’m more moved when Sharp takes me someplace I haven’t been before. The first two pieces you see upon entering the gallery are the most evocative of deep, emotional places that resonate with the potential for connection on the part of the viewer. Vertically oriented, self-framed acrylics on canvas, the two untitled pieces introduce an element of figuration, if only a hazily suggestive one. Sharp, influenced by a background in music as well as art, purveys musical notes onto his canvas as bubbles of sound; not literally, of course ... but in abstracted shapes. The birds or the suggestions of birds give more balance to largely figureless abstraction. In other words, the paintings move beyond the somewhat decorative nature of most of the pieces in this collection; and it is a welcome transition. Sharp is said to be inspired by the Midwestern landscape, and while one can vaguely make this connection, I’m more inclined to see a primordial one. These paintings move us up through the layers of being, as if water merging into sky was a metaphor for the self — no mistake, actually, when you recall the impetus of the early abstract expressionists who introduced such introspection. (Sharp does, in fact, cite abstract expressionist influences.) Sharp has the ability to surprise us; and this, ultimately, is what will set him apart. The paintings of Chicago artist Mark Sharp are on view through March 12 at 4 Star Gallery, 653 Massachusetts Ave., 686-8382 or www.4stargallery.com.