With their gestural brushstrokes atop grids of colored dots, Carol Brown Goldberg’s recent paintings are sort of a marriage of abstract expressionism and op art. But that hardly explains the appeal of these captivating canvases, which are precisely rendered and grandly romantic. The large paintings have a sense of depth that evokes the vastness of space, and glistening surfaces that result from the prolific Washington artist’s incorporation of pulverized glass.
Describing these works’ ingredients is not difficult. Rows of hand-painted dots generally frame a rectangular central field, and the dots shift in color — often subtly, but sometimes dramatically. The precisely aligned dots contrast with the freer daubs, which crackle like lightning, and the shifting light effects of the glass particles. Although the pictures have a central focus, they pull the eye in many directions. Streaks and gleams lead in random directions, while the multi-layered compositions conjure an illusion of infinite expanse.
This show also includes four aluminum sculptures of stacked multiple discs, the 3D equivalent of those dots. These are painted in shades of a single color, making them much simpler than the canvases they accompany. In the paintings, the eminently modern form of the dot (associated with painter Roy Lichtenstein) becomes part of something contemplative, even devotional.
In “Heroines, Angels, Muses,” Alfredo Ratinoff more directly draws on sacred and symbolic imagery. The Argentine-born Washington glass and ceramic artist is of Russian descent, a heritage that’s visible in such pieces as “The Passion of St. Michael.” Ratinoff bases some of his work on ancient models, as when he makes a series of vessels that reproduce the style of prehistoric pottery unearthed near the Caspian Sea. But the artist doesn’t limit himself to Slavic and Byzantine motifs. Among his heroines are Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Snow White.
Although Ratinoff’s historical and literary references are centuries old, his work brings a contemporary sensibility to traditional technique. Riffing on the condition of many archaeological finds, the artist presents original glass works that have been shattered and recombined; his “Muse of Revelation” is broken in half, with an intact painted image of its subject beneath the cleaved glass one. One of the show’s most alluring pieces, “City of the Midnight Sun,” takes a modern approach to stained glass; small red orbs circle the central image, catching the light. Surrounding an expressionistic urban scene that could be either a North African souk or a skyscraping metropolis, the red glimmers suggest not cathedral windows but traffic lights.
Temporary forms of housing are the motif of “Helter Shelter,” local photographer Maxwell MacKenzie’s engrossing show at the American Institute of Architects’ headquarters. These pictures of trailers, RVs and other simple dwellings are filled with contrast and paradox. The larger-than-large-format images illustrate the twin human impulses toward freedom and order, and how people arrange communities to both accommodate and disregard nature.