Eritrean painter Ficre Ghebreyesus makes its New York solo debut.

The painter Ficre Ghebreyesus, whose work makes its New York solo debut with the show “Gate to the Blue,” traveled a long way in his cut-short life. He was born in Eritrea, East Africa, and left at 16 to escape the country’s brutal war of independence with Ethiopia. He traveled on foot to Sudan and lived as a refugee in Italy and Germany. In 1981, he settled in the United States, where he studied painting at the Art Students League in New York and at the Yale School of Art and supported himself for years as a restaurant chef in New Haven, Conn. During these years in exile, he became fluent in multiple languages, spoken and visual. In a mural-size painting on an unstretched canvas titled “Zememesh Berhe’s Magic Garden,” an enclosing “wall” of Eritrean-style geometric patterning serves as the backdrop for an African-American bottle tree. And much of his work semi-abstract, opaquely autobiographical has a dreamlike cast. In “Mangia Libro,” titled for a nickname “book-eater” that his family gave him as a child, he depicts his younger self absorbed in reading as he walks away from what looks like a line of monumental buildings toward a subaqueous realm of fantastic fish and plants, all done in colors Matisse would have relished. And large histories, beyond the personal, are ever-present in his art. In a few cases, the subject of exile is directly named, yet it can be read obliquely everywhere in the show. Taken together, two small pictures, one of an unmanned boat, the other of a soaring seabird, might be asking: What is the difference between being cut adrift and flying free? Mr. Ghebreyesus’s appetitive colors make his art instantly magnetic, but it is his images of boats, animals, musical instruments, angels that write stories in the mind.