Written in pencil on a partition at the Greater Reston Arts Center, the lyrics to Willie Dixon’s “My John the Conqueror Root” provide a key to “Incubator,” an occult artistic collaboration between Renee Stout and Odinga Tyehimba. The root the bluesman celebrated is a talisman of good luck and sexual power, and its use in “mojo bags” is an American vestige of West African folk religion.
The show is full of ritual objects, often improvised by the two artists rather than taken directly from tradition. Tyehimba, a North Carolinian, came to the District to work with Stout. Some of the sculptures and works on paper are credited individually, and others to both of them. But all fit together, unifying the primeval and contemporary, organic and mechanical.
Playing on the idea of power, the two artists incorporated battered old radios, record players and vacuum-tube amplifiers, repurposing them in such mystical machines as Stout’s “Spirit Selector” and “Crossroads Transmitter.” (In African lore, the crossroads is where the physical and spiritual worlds intersect.) Tyehimba, a military veteran, constructed grenades out of dirt, sawdust, glue and found objects. They’re not explosive, of course, but they remind that violence is one source of power.
The assemblages are rough-edged, yet hardly naive. Some of them evoke African deities, and Tyehimba’s “Self Portrait” is a sort of totem with a horned head at top. It could be seen a shrine to himself, but more likely it’s a monument to his heritage — or some of it. These assemblages propose that Stout and Tyehimba, like all of us, are built from many parts and many pasts.
Incubator: Renee Stout and Odinga Tyehimba. On view through Saturday at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Suite 103, Reston; 703-471-9242; www.restonarts.org
Inspired by literature and her own dreams, Ruby Osorio’s drawing-paintings are intentionally open-ended. The works in the Los Angeles artist’s “Reverie,” at Randall Scott Projects, combine watercolor with either pencil or ink to depict female figures in enigmatic settings. The most engrossing is “The End and the Beginning,” in which a woman in a fuchsia print dress emerges from gray shadows. The heavily worked background glistens with graphite, which largely obscures some industrial-looking details.
The other pictures feature white or pastel backdrops, providing a visual openness that suggests traditional East Asian ink paintings. That’s most apparent in “Shadowboxer,” rendered almost entirely in shades of watery gray ink. (While it’s the only piece that forgoes watercolor, it does include a small pair of red shoes.) In 2005, Osorio was an artist in residence in a Tokyo exurb, although Japan is not her only pre-20th-century influence; she also studied pre-Columbian art in Mexico.
Osorio has long focused on women and girls, making images that critique society’s domestic and erotic ideals. But embroidery, a skill she learned from her Mexican aunts, and overt sexuality are both less common in the artist’s work these days. “Reverie” is Osorio’s first show in three years, a period in which she became a mother. In such new pictures as “Sailor,” which depicts a swimmer with a toy ship, the archetype she seems to be pursuing is herself.
Ruby Osorio: Reverie. On view through July 12 at Randall Scott Projects, 1326 H St. NE, 2nd Floor; 202-396-0300; www.randallscottprojects.com
Linda Press and Barbara Sussberg are representational painters, but each presents views only she can see. Their show at Susan Calloway Fine Arts reveals a shared affinity for light and a preference for unpeopled locations. Press’s style is detailed and her subjects urban; Sussberg prefers rustic scenes, which she simplifies until they are near abstraction.
Sussberg’s pictures are all oriented horizontally, as befits her interest in horizons and the contrast, often subtle, between sky and land or sea. Such titles as “Taking the Ferry Across” hint at human presence, yet it’s not quite visible. Instead, the South Carolina artist presents large areas of blue, yellow or orange, layered and dappled to show the effects of diffused light. Sussberg’s magnum opus is the thickly impastoed “Water VII,” in which glimmers of gray in the dominant blue reflect a steely sky. The basic elements could hardly be simpler, yet the result is complex.
There are a few horizontal vistas in Press’s selection, but she tends toward compositions that are vertical and even vertiginous. Mostly depicting picturesque places such as Venice, Paris and Dubrovnik, she offers a bird’s-eye or attic-dweller’s vantage on narrow streets and canyon-like walls, often hot with direct sunlight. (One apt title is “Bright Italy.”) The Maryland artist works from multiple photographs of a scene, sometimes assembled choppily for a mildly Cubist vibe. The effect is discreet, however. Press emphasizes historic locales and traditional techniques, with just a hint of modernist disorientation.
Linda Press/Barbara Sussberg: On view through Saturday at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-965-4601; www.callowayart.com
There are some expansive works in Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s new group exhibition, but that doesn’t directly explain why the show is called “Space.” The title refers to Cross MacKenzie’s new Georgetown quarters, which are much larger than its previous Dupont Circle digs. (The storefront used to house Heiner Gallery, whose proprietor relocated to Connecticut.) There’s room for large canvases and an example of Walter McConnell’s altar-like assemblages of kitsch ceramic figurines that dwarfs anything in the gallery’s 2013 McConnell show.
Regulars will have seen some of these artists, if not always these exact pieces, in recent years. There’s Maxwell McKenzie’s vast photo of a vast prairie, one of Kurt Weiser’s intricately embellished ceramic globes, a set of John H. Brown’s photos of lone African trees and two of Leslie Parke’s paintings of submerged china. Also included is work by artists the gallery hasn’t shown recently, or at all. Carole Bolsey’s paintings are welters of vivid hues from which recognizable forms — boats, a horse — emerge. Equally fluorescent are Angie To’s resin-coated abstractions, in which nature-derived patterns are rendered in intense colors and strong blacks. They stand in one of the gallery’s many new features, a display window, beckoning passersby into “Space.”
Space: On view through July 22 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-337-7970; www.crossmackenzie.com
Jenkins is a freelance writer.