The Washington Color School might also be called the Washington Raw Canvas School. Beginning in the late 1950s, such local painters as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland used untreated canvas, both for the way that diluted acrylic pigment seeped into it and as a neutral ground to set off the strong hues. So it’s intriguing that the large Thomas Downing picture that greets visitors to “Selections from the Dolly Langdon and Aldus H. Chapin Collection” at Hemphill Fine Arts is the only one that employs unpainted canvas.
Made between 1958 and 1986, these 19 works constitute an impressive sampler of Washington color painting, although they include one by an artist who never lived in the District, Karl Stanley Benjamin, and one by a representational artist, Michael Clark (whose “Lincoln Memorial” features bars of luminous color). There’s nothing by Louis, but there is Noland’s cool-toned “Target” and pieces by most of the other expected artists.
While the stylistic range is not vast, the variations are significant. Downing’s “Grid 1 Series, April 21, 1971,” which arranges colored dots neatly on that off-white field, is one of several pieces with hard-edged shapes. Others, including Howard Mehring’s “Nascence,” appear watery. So does Sam Gilliam’s “Mess of Greens,” whose narrow palette and soft stripes contrast with the sharp lines and dark-versus-light schema of Gene Davis’s “Black Rainbow.” Anne Truitt, who’s known for painted sculpture, gives “Spies” an illusion of depth by hinting at a horizon line at the bottom. Leon Berkowitz does something similar, albeit more romantically, with the luminous “Study for Sea Forth.” And Ed McGowin riffs on Noland’s targets with the Plexiglas semicircles of “Vacuum #2 and #7.” These works, most of them now for sale, must have lived well together. Certainly they have a lot to say to each other.
Selections from the Dolly Langdon and Aldus H. Chapin Collection: On view through Aug. 2 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW, No. 300; 202-234-5601, www.hemphillfinearts.com.
There’s no bare canvas in W.C. Richardson’s recent work, on display in “Catch & Release,” G Fine Art’s first show at its new location. Yet the paintings have a newfound spaciousness. Richardson, who chairs the University of Maryland art department, is known for tightly patterned, closely interlocked compositions. These 2013-14 pictures build maze-like structures atop gray, off-white or pale blue backgrounds. The show’s title seems to refer to these expanding open areas. In “Another Probability Jungle,” some of the red-
outlined black boxes have been released by being overpainted with white.
The artist’s arrays of squares and rectangles can suggest everything from medieval street plans to computer circuit boards. Yet Richardson doesn’t favor the perfectly straight lines of architecture or industry. The shapes are painted freehand and outlined with contrasting colors, often a dark one shadowed by a light one. Curving lines, once common in Richardson’s art, have largely vanished, although the backdrop of “Pendulum Inside” includes gray circles. One by one, such variations are elementary. Arrayed over a large painting in a way that both upholds and subverts the underlying grid, they are intriguingly, unpredictably complex.
W.C. Richardson: Catch & Release: On view through Aug. 2 at G Fine Art, 4718 14th St. NW; 202-462-1601; www.gfineartdc.com.
Bill Jonas, Scot McKenzie and Robert Cole
Robert Cole, who died last year, left behind sculptures both towering and small, as well as a Dupont Circle studio that in June debuted as an art gallery. Visitors to “Scrape.Grind.Shape: Fluid Process Works by Bill Jonas, Scot McKenzie, and Robert Cole” will surely notice some of the namesake artist’s bigger pieces, but the show focuses on his modestly scaled cast bronzes. They boast elegant curves and eloquent voids. Among Cole’s large pieces are male figures with such macho totems as motorcycles and electric guitars. The solid metal almost seems to melt into fluid gestures.
The other sculptor of the local trio is Scot McKenzie, a former Cole apprentice who’s also known as a theater actor, director and producer. His framed sculptural wall pieces combine multiple substances — steel, bronze, glass — and contrast a variety of textures: smooth or rough, clean or jagged. One thing McKenzie may have learned from Cole is the use of negative space. Characteristic of the sculptor’s compositions is “Wind Tree,” in which the outline of an emptiness mirrors a conifer-shaped raised element. Such suggested shapes appear stronger, in a sense, than the metal that defines them.
The third artist is Bill Jonas, a painter whose experience in commercial art is evident in such fanciful pictures as “Swan Dive,” in which pink nudes dive from the backs of swans through rings of fire into a shark-filled turquoise sea. The vivid hues, repeated motifs and hard-edged style resemble record-cover and T-shirt illustration, although the undulating bodies suggest Cole’s bronzes as well. Jonas is also the show’s scraper. He has executed a series of small oil-on-wood paintings, predominately red, in which the pigments have been abraded. These evocatively weathered pictures fit well with the sculpture, not only because of their physicality but also because they, too, make skillful use of absence.
Scrape.Grind.Shape: Fluid Process Works by Bill Jonas, Scot McKenzie and Robert Cole: On view by appointment through July 27 at Studio Cole, 1714 15th St. NW (rear); 202-387-3568; www.studiocole.com.
On Paper, In Series
As its title suggests, “On Paper, In Series” is a selection of prints. The centerpiece of the five-artist Marsha Mateyka Gallery show is Robert Motherwell’s “Hollow Men,” a 1985 suite of seven small etchings whose strong black forms rival the power of the artist’s vast canvases. There are also three 1976 “Indian Views” by Howard Hodgkin, notable for their contrast of simple forms and diverse textures.
The other items are all one-of-a-kind monoprints, mixing various media. Robert Kushner’s 1987 “Reclining Woman” is a drypoint on patterned paper, embellished with metallic leaf. Nathan Oliveira’s two earth-toned 1998 works combine printing and painting as they do landscape and abstraction. The two examples of Mary Frank’s “Equestrian and Standing Nude” series, from 1982, seem photo-based, yet rarefy their juxtaposed images into silhouettes and blocks of mottled color. Like the work of the other artists, they demonstrate the potential infinity within tiny variations.
On Paper, In Series: On view through Saturday at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW; 202-328-0088; www.marshamateykagallery.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.