Although he was born, lived and died in the San Francisco Bay area, Nathan Oliveira had significant connections to other places. He traveled frequently to Portugal, his parents’ homeland. And he has been represented since 1988 by Marsha Mateyka’s Dupont Circle gallery, which is showing “Nathan Oliveira: An Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures, Monotypes & Watercolors.” The work is diverse, but holds together well, linked by its earthy palette and a mastery of line and texture.
Like other noted California artists of his era, Oliveira borrowed techniques from the abstract expressionists, but he rarely produced work that was purely abstract. The painter and sculptor, who died in 2010, also was influenced by pre-war European art. (Oliveira’s most obvious debt is to Alberto Giacometti, whose spindly bronzes presage the ones in this show.) The human figure was a continuing inspiration, as is demonstrated here by three 1989 watercolors from the “Imi” series, rendered from life with grace and spontaneity. Oliveira sometimes revisited these images as more thickly painted oils, such as 1990’s “Untitled Nude.”
This selection ranges from two of Oliveira’s last paintings, made in 2010, to some of his “site” mixed-media monotypes, executed in the late 1990s (although sometimes embellished later). The latter, which the artist termed “illustrations,” are dream visions of ancient Portugal, sparked by trips through the country. They’re elusive, yet highly detailed: “Portuguese Sites, Douro Valley #1” is a hazy landscape centered on a shepherd’s hut, with elaborate pencil work atop the simple image.
The pair of 2010 paintings depict human forms on fields that are similar in hue but distinct in texture. The eerie “Mask Rising” is an oval with a hint of eyes, floating above a ground whose pattern suggests wood grain. Even more striking is “Standing Figure, Looking Forward,” whose figure is red and heavily painted, in front of a thin, drizzly backdrop that’s barely a shade lighter. To the very end, Oliveira deftly combined figurative and abstract, corporeal and intangible.
More than a dozen artists caucus in “Campaign Re/Form,” Greater Reston Arts Center’s contribution to election-year chatter. They work with myriad ideas and various media, but there are two dominant motifs: the American flag and political machines.
Holly Bass (the show’s guest curator) and Kashuo Bennett built “PhotoVotomatic,” a hybrid voting machine and photo booth. John Anderson’s “Job Creation Maker” is a device that produces buttons with the word “job” on them. The most pointed of the mechanisms is Blake Fall-Conroy’s “Minimum Wage Machine,” a wooden box that, if cranked continually for an hour, will dispense 725 pennies — the exact amount a Virginian would earn from a McJob’s hourly starting wage.
Fall-Conroy also crafted “Police Flag,” which renders the stars and stripes in blinking red, white and blue cop-cruiser roof lights. Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky) designed posters of Old Glory crossed with a UPC code, while Kate Kretz’s flag takes the evocative form of a bloodied Band-Aid. The tilt is clearly toward the left, notably in Renee Stout’s “Thoughts of a 99-Percenter,” a three-panel piece of hand-lettered slogans and commentary. But Graham Boyle and Rose Jaffe’s “Beast of Burden” takes a bipartisan approach, grafting the donkey and the elephant into a single, headless creature. It says what a lot of people may be thinking: a pox on, at the very least, both your mascots.
The three local artists in “Trio: An Explosion of Color and Form” at the Watergate Gallery include Emily Lane, who does glittery mixed-media abstractions on cosmic or oceanic themes, and Philippe Mougne, who fashions metal or steel into sinuous, vertically oriented sculptures. Their work makes a quick impression, while the paintings and prints by the show’s other participant ask for deeper inspection.
Beirut-born Helen Zughaib draws on her Islamic heritage and art history to craft images that can be as simple as a mosque’s decorative motif (the floral forms of “Count to Ten”) or as busy as pop-art cocktail party. Her “All the Good Ones Are Dead” series (named for a remark overheard at the Corcoran Gallery) combines figures of women in the styles of Picasso, Lichtenstein, Japanese ukiyo-e prints and more. While these gouache and ink paintings comment on the tradition of women as artistic subjects, such pictures as “The Wonder Within” depict women as American-style superheroines. As “Women Against the Night” shows, however, Zughaib sees female emancipation and Middle Eastern tradition as potentially compatible.
Zughaib is also represented in “Homage: Past Influences,” a 19-artist show at the Target Gallery. The kind of homage that occurred to many of the contributors is to their artistic precursors, often 19th-century and French or Dutch. Jenny Wiener diagrams works by Seurat and Cezanne, while Jodie Mim Goodnough’s photograph shows posters of works by Monet and Van Gogh. Zughaib offers two renderings of Arab women, as seen through the modernist prisms of Mondrian and Lichtenstein.
The show, curated by Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery director Brooke Seidelmann, also includes portraits, videos and paintings of artistic tools. But the most striking piece is Brenda Oelbaum’s large photograph of an unclad corpulent woman, flanked by piles of diet guides — part of the image behind the figure, and with actual books stacked on the floor in front of the photo. The pose recalls famed paintings of reclining nudes, notably by Ingres and Manet, made in the pre-Atkins age. It’s more critique than homage, which is one of the reasons it dominates the selection.
Last year, a Long View Gallery group show included several of Cheryl Wassenaar’s pieces, which used chopped bits of abandoned commercial signs in abstract but rhythmic assemblages. The St. Louis artist is still doing such collages, but the work in “Syntax,” her current exhibition, is starker.
In Wassenaar’s more recent work, the shards of text often float in white space, as if on a page from an arty 1990s publication such as Raygun. Unlike the earlier pieces, the new ones generally don’t evoke the cluttered signage of city storefronts. Such pieces as “Diction,” with its crisp letters and fragments in shades of blue, are cleaner and cooler. The three-part “Tower of Babel” series is more colorful, and “Decibel” more dramatic, because it shifts from mostly white to mostly black. The urban clamor of Wassenaar’s previous combines is missed, but in its place is an appealing elegance.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
Nathan Oliveira: An Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures,
Monotypes & Watercolors
Through Oct. 27 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW.
Through Oct. 27 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston.
Trio: An Explosion of Color and Form
Through Oct. 26 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW.
Homage: Past Influences
Through Oct. 28 at Target Gallery, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.
703-838-4565, Ext. 4; torpedofactory.org/galleries/target.htm.
Through Oct. 28 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW.