Artists have used neon in many ways, but it and other glowing gases — more than just neon is required to produce various colors — are most associated with signs. D.C. neon artist Craig Kraft has returned to that tradition, but with light works based on jottings rather than elegant logos. Three of Kraft’s “Unintentional Drawings,” based on his own doodles, are included in “Markings,” at VisArts’s Gibbs Street Gallery in Rockville. But most of the pieces derive from someone else’s scrawls. Or rather, a whole bunch of other people’s, since the pieces riff on years of graffiti at Ground Zero Blues Club, a joint in the Mississippi region that gave the Delta blues its name.
Kraft photographed the intentionally shabby club’s interior and mounted the images on wood. He then fashioned neon tubes in the form of shapes seen in the photos, usually but not always spotlighting words. For one piece, the artist outlined a rip in a seat cover; in another, a sketch of a lizard.
The tubes burn white, but are partially covered in scratched black paint, so they appear as ragged as the surfaces of the graffiti-covered club. The effect is subtle, designed to complement rather than upstage the photographs. Kraft is writing with light, but only to underscore what others scribbled before him.
Upstairs at Kaplan Gallery, “Abstraction: Finding the Thread” surveys the work of seven painters, all but one members of a Baltimore-area group, AB 8. Carol Miller Frost renders minimalist bars and boxes in barely distinguishable tones, while Timothy App, working in black, white and shades of gray and brown, frames large blocks of color in painted borders. Also a sort of color-field painter, Dennis Farber blankets unframed canvases with mottled impasto, contrasted by squares of painted aluminum mounted atop the surface.
Jo Smail and Dan Dudrow employ brighter colors and quiltlike compositions that suggest — or, in Smail’s case, actually use — collage. There’s more sense of real-world forms in the pictures of Bill Schmidt, whose grid matrices hint at sculptural or architectural precedents, and in Michael Weiss’s stringlike oblongs, which use classical technique to simulate shadows cast by the loops.
Weiss’s paintings may have inspired the “thread” of the show’s title, but the strand that runs through all the work is a determination to expand the idioms of 20th-century abstraction.
Craig Kraft: Markings Graffiti From the Ground Zero Blues Club Series; Abstraction: Finding the Thread On view through April 20 at Kaplan and Gibbs Street Galleries, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-315-8200, www.visartscenter.org.
Painter Charles Jarboe is also from Baltimore, but that’s his only link to the AB 8. Often depicting quaint Ellicott City, Jarboe is a rigorous realist with an affinity for everyday scenes and extraordinary twilights. Pink-streaked or fully salmon skies recur in his Marin-Price Galleries show, whose subjects range from Maryland lanes to Manhattan side streets, along with a few pictures of swampy terrain that must be considerably south of the Washington-Baltimore region.
Although his style is impressively precise, Jarboe is not a cold-eyed photographic realist. Whether slipping though clouds or reflecting from a creek, his light has a romantic quality, and the artist uses compositional devices that recall Edo-period Japanese prints. The largest painting in this selection of mostly modestly scaled ones shows a small-town landscape, but is titled “Seven Hanging Pears,” after the fruit that dangles in front of the scene. Jarboe’s vistas are mainly framed traditionally, but such playful compositions demonstrate that his wit is as formidable as his technique.
Charles Jarboe On view through April 24 at Marin-Price Galleries, 7022 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-718-0622; www.marin-price.com.
There’s barely a distinction between works on paper and works of paper in “Paper Paradox,” the 10-artist show at the Carroll Square Gallery. Such mixed-media pieces as Mei Mei Chang’s “Breathing Landscape” combine drawing, painting and collage, while Suzanne Desaix’s “Cornucopia” and Alice Quatrochi’s “Rewind” are fully sculptural. Several of the pieces use artist-made materials, drawing on Japanese traditions of washi (handmade paper) and wabi (rough-hewn simplicity). There can be an environmental twist to this aesthetic, as when Patterson Clark makes paper, ink, frames and printing blocks exclusively from trees and plants that are invasive to the Washington area.
As might be expected of such an exhibition, the forms are wispy and the colors muted. Image and backdrop often seem to merge, as in Alexis Granwell’s “Flood,” which arrays yellow and gold dots and stains on cream-colored paper. Peter Winant’s “Chalk Lines” draws parallel bars of powdery, grayish pigment across grainy, milky-colored paper. The most involved work, Ceci Cole McInturff’s “Thought Are Things,” collects found and made specimens into a six-volume sculptural book. Everything you need to know may be digitized these days, yet paper and books have a tactile appeal that can’t be replaced.
Paper Paradox: Material and Meaning On view through April 25 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW; 202-234-5601; www.hemphillfinearts.com/exhibitions/carroll-square-gallery/current-exhibitions.
New German Photography
Dada to documentary marks the range of “New German Photography 2013-2014,” a survey of nine young photogs at the Goethe-Institut. Some entrants take the National Geographic approach: Birte Kaufmann followed Irish “travellers,” while Lioba Keuck visited shantytowns outside Lisbon. The travellers’ current lifestyle involves both RVs and horses, while Lisbon’s outsiders, many of them African immigrants, mostly do agricultural work. More conceptually, Christina Werner conjures a riverside promenade in India with stark images of wooden barriers and leaves of a local tree.
The Dadaist in the group is Nadja Bournonville, who photographs both people and strange assemblages. Many of the latter are mechanical, but the most weirdly compelling is a nude woman accessorized with multiple plastic breast forms, her hands and feet hidden in shiny cones that may be party hats. Just as uncanny but more austere are Alwin Lay’s photos of everyday items — call them “readymades” — inside clear boxes. It would have been nice to see more of these, especially the puckish ones (included in the catalogue) that show a flickering, unrepeatable moment under glass — as if it were the glass, not the camera, that transforms an instant into an eternity.
Gute Aussichten: New German Photography 2013-2014 On view through April 25 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW; 202-289-1200; www.goethe.de/washington.
Mark Jenkins is a freelance writer.