Architecture has a natural affinity with printmaking. Buildings begin as lines on paper and are increasingly likely to end up as unadorned assemblies of right angles and blank planes. There are some pictures in the Old Print Gallery’s impressive “Form, Light, Line: Architecture in Print” that are similarly stark. More of them, though, exalt the details of commercial, industrial or ecclesiastical structures.
Grand churches are a logical subject for such prints, whether focused on a single feature or a full building. Working in the 1920s, the earliest period represented here, John Taylor Arms etched both a lone gargoyle and Rouen Cathedral’s facade with finesse worthy of the intricate stonework. William J. Behnken’s “Light/Steel/Air” is an equally delicate treatment of a more functional 20th-century structure, while Martin Levine’s “Tribune Tower” frames Chicago skyscrapers between neo-Gothic finials.
The only scene identifiable as from the District also has a towering vantage point: Richard Haas’s “View of the Mall from the Castle” stands high above Independence Avenue, observing a stormy sky through a fisheye lens. It’s a lithograph, but the artist is represented by a canvas and a paint box on the building’s roof.
Interestingly, many of the prints depict humbler vistas, and often from the rear. Sidney Hurwitz offers an alley view in muted, hand-colored shades; Grace Bentley-Scheck focuses even more tightly on the intersection of two battered outside walls. Less realistically, Joan Drew stacks series of two-story facades, each string in a single color.
Some of the subjects, such as the brutalist Boston City Hall, almost require minimalist renderings. Steven Yamin’s “Project #81” verges on schematic drawing, albeit softened by pastel hues, and Patrick J. Anderson’s “Urban Views” reduce streetscapes to “Sin City”-like black-and-white. Perhaps the canniest picture is Su-Li Hung’s “New Museum,” which renders that jagged Manhattan structure as a stack of woodcut patterns. If only the actual building looked so good.
Form, Light, Line: Architecture in Print. On view through Sept. 13 at the Old Print Gallery, 1220 31st St. NW, Washington; 202-965-1818; www.oldprintgallery.com
“Drifting Waters” seems too mild a title for Mary Armstrong’s show of violently luminous paintings at Cross MacKenzie Gallery. These seas are roiling and boldly colored, sometimes in oranges and pinks that suggest lava more than water, and mirrored by skies that are just as turbulent and dramatically hued. Indeed, the horizon line is often murky, suggesting that ocean and air are not really divided. They can appear part of a single churning mass, more akin to Jupiter than Earth.
The artist, who teaches at Boston College, owes something to 19th-century techniques and aesthetics. She even named one landscape “Crossing the Bar,” the title of a well-known Tennyson poem. But Armstrong doesn’t depict nature as gentle or serene, or in the expected tones. Red skies glower over green waves, and sunlight bristles rather than dapples. Even the smallest of these pictures is expansive.
Armstrong paints on wood panels with a mixture of oils and wax, and then scrapes the surface to reveal hidden colors and create a sense of depth. The addition and subtraction also gives the paintings crackling energy and a sense of unpredictability. The sky may be conventionally azure, as in the voluptuously hued “Padua Blue Wave,” but a tempest is always close at hand.
Mary Armstrong: Drifting Waters. On view through Sept. 10 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington; 202-337-7970; www.crossmackenzie.com
Just as Old Master canvases are not displayed in clear acrylic frames, so contemporary photographs are not presented in ornate gold ones. Except that they are in Jayme McLellan’s “Pleasing Nature,” a show of pointed contrasts. McLellan’s Heurich Gallery exhibition juxtaposes rustic scenes and urban vignettes, the grand and the everyday, fleeting instants and words that have lasted for a century or more. Many of the photos take their titles from such 19th-century romantics as Keats, Byron, Shelley and, yes, Tennyson. Their flowery lines are verbal equivalents of those gold frames.
Last year, the D.C. artist showed photos of cloud-flecked skies. This array includes a few similar pictures, notably a vertical block of richly saturated blue into which a thin jet of white seems to have been sprayed. But McLellan has also been using her macro lens, shooting shallow-focused close-ups of grass, skin and stray blossoms rooted in cracked pavement. Some of the rustic views have an edgy quality, because of the harshness of their sun- or firelight. Yet the most extreme dissonance comes in an urban image: a poster of a fashion model, emulating an Old Master portrait, that hangs next to cracked wall. The photo is titled “Truth is beauty,” with an irony alien to Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the poem from which that phrase is adapted.
Jayme McLellan: Pleasing Nature. On view through Sept. 2 at Heurich Gallery, 505 9th St. NW, Washington; 202-223-1626, www.downtowndc.org/go/heurich-gallery
Two of the works in “Structures,” a 16-artist show at the Art League, directly invoke the history of sculpture. Josh Band’s “Abstract Female Nude” resembles one of Henry Moore’s large bronzes, while Stacy Cantrell’s “Aphrodite of D.C.” is modeled on the armless ancient-Greek statue often called “Venus de Milo.” But both modify the original material: Band’s not-exactly-hourglass figure is terra cotta, while Cantrell’s near-nude is crocheted. Such playful twists are characteristic of juror Rosemary Luckett’s choices.
There’s not much metal or stone in the lineup, which includes a confetti-like wall piece made from shredded police tape (Sabyna Sterrett’s “Danger, Do Not Enter This Environment”) and a shattered teapot whose shards are fixed in a pool of dried resin (Helen Goodrum’s “Metamorphosis”). Several works are assembled from found objects, yielding Charles Bergen’s large, metal-beaked “Heron” and Joseph Kieffer’s “Zorg’s Flying Machine,” which looks more like a musical instrument. The underlying structure is particularly evident in Maria Simonsson’s “Scorched,” a drum-shaped wire framework with a bit of fabric at the top, and Larry Fransen’s “Wheels,” a kinetic sculpture of metal and plastic gears and spokes that rotate in contrary directions. It’s the liveliest thing in a show whose most intriguing entries all turn away from sculptural tradition.
Structures. On view through Sept. 8 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria, Va.; 703-683-1780, www.theartleague.org
Jenkins is a freelance writer.