Venturing into the wilds of abstract expressionism, seasoned California artist William T. Wiley is showing four vast canvases at Marsha Mateyka Gallery. Painted thickly and tightly with acrylic pigments, each of these pictures is a cauldron of small, undulating forms in colors that combine to suggest earth or sea. If that sounds sort of cosmic, the Indiana-born Wiley hasn’t lost his folksy irreverence. The paintings bear such titles as “New Planet Winter Blues Whack and Blite” and each incorporates a small square with an intentionally rough pencil drawing. One of the insets is a fake Japanese illustration attributed to make-believe artist Shunoo Shoju, whose surname probably comes from the Asian liquor (also called shochu).
Some West Coast artists venerate Asian culture, but Wiley doesn’t take anything too seriously. His “An Exhibition of New Paintings, Watercolors & Constructions” includes a simulated blackboard scrawled with puns attributed to “Lout Sue” — which approximates how some people pronounce Lao Tzu. Wiley is also fond of simpler puns; his set of ocean-themed watercolors is titled “See Quartet,” and text in one of them includes the words “rap sure.”
The artist, who had a retrospective at the Smithsonian Art Museum about three years ago, has a puckish attitude, but he’s not detached from the world he chronicles. This show includes “Devils in the Details and Voting Booth,” a 2001 commentary on the Bush-vs.-Gore recount battle that includes some chad-like forms. Less pointedly, the selection features several constructions made of found objects, and a painting that depicts some of them grouped together. Wiley’s artistic universe is not sleek or seamless, but all its elements fit together somehow.
China-bred local artist Linling Lu also invokes the Tao, more earnestly than Wiley, in “Lilac,” her exhibition of paintings and fabric works at Hemphill Fine Arts. The selection includes some of her previously seen “One Hundred Melodies of Solitude” from 2010, which consist of brightly hued circular bands and color fields on round canvases. The paintings, which often feature large expanses of pulsing color at their centers, suggest the Taoist idea of chi, the body’s internal energy.
That life force is more muted in her 2012 “Melodies,” which use the same circular format, but often with cooler colors. Interestingly, Lu has arranged several of the earlier paintings with more recent ones, hanging them on the walls as if they’re gears in some kind of machinery. A few of the pictures stand alone, but most are part of multi-ring installations. (They can be purchased separately.)
However the paintings are organized, their most impressive aspects are their purity and precision. Lu’s predecessors include such Washington Color School artists as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, but she doesn’t share their taste for letting the process show. Lu’s canvases are impeccably crafted, with no visible glitches and a stunning sense of unity. They appear perfect and eternal, as if they’d always existed. Such canvases can’t help but upstage the artist’s recent fabric works, which assemble scraps of found textiles from China, India and the United States into triangle or diamond shapes.
As off-the-shelf metaphors, balloons usually stand for flight, buoyancy and escape. But that’s if they’re filled with air, which they’re not in Matthew Malone’s photographs. For “Hot Pink,” at Hillyer Art Space, Malone uses pink party balloons that are barely inflated, if at all, as a “drawing tool.” He deploys the soft pink shapes against incongruous backdrops, often industrial or dilapidated.
Some of the most vibrant pictures contrast the balloons with a green tarp or deep blue skies, but the balloons’ color stands out just about anywhere. Against brown dirt or gray machinery, the soft pink orbs suggest the opposition between work and play, duty and frivolity. Malone sometimes allows the location to dictate the form, as when he places balloons neatly into the cavities of a monster-truck tire. But he also arranges balloons in geometric patterns, such as a pink triangle atop a grill or a wavering line up the slope of a dirt mound. Arrayed in such near-Euclidean forms, the modest rubber objects represent the gap between the ideal and the everyday. That’s heavy stuff for a balloon.
No playful balloonist, R.K. Dickson bases his work on dignified Old Master paintings, often with religious or mythological themes. That’s evident from the titles of his lithographs, also at Hillyer, but not from their imagery. In “New Renaissance Prints,” Dickson abstracts elements from such masters as Titian, yielding pictures whose simple gestures and sumptuous textures often seem more Asian than European. The printmaker, who teaches fine art at a small Pennsylvania college, explains these pictures in academic terms. But their appeal is sensual and immediate.
Local photographer-printmaker Michael B. Platt refuses to stay within established boundaries in his enveloping Honfleur Gallery show, “Steppin’ Out.” He uses adhesive cutouts to allow his figures — all female nudes — to walk off the canvas and onto the wall. The effect is to conjure motion in such pieces as “Strollin’,” and also to link the individual works into a cycle. That’s not such a stretch, since several of them depict women grouped in circles.
Inspired by a trip to Australia, Platt has painted atop the women’s bodies, sometimes in patterns that suggest tribal markings but also in the free gestures of 20th-century abstraction. The balance of primeval and modern is also reflected in the artist’s use of repetition and mechanical reproduction. His groups of women are actually repeated images of the same person, which suggests universality and extended lineages but also Warhol’s multiple Elvises and Marilyns. The multilayered compositions give Platt’s women a ghostly quality, while their nudity and their rugged settings are earthy. The figures are dream-like and, at the same time, utterly human.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Dec. 22 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW; 202-328-0088; www.marshamateykagallery.com.
on view through Dec. 22 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-234-5601, www.hemphillfinearts.com.
on view through Dec. 22 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Court NW; 202-338-0680; www.artsandartists.org/hillyer.php.
on view through Dec. 21 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE; 202-365-8392; www.honfleurgallery.com.