Perhaps art, craft, science and religion are different manifestations of the same fundamental thing. That’s how it seems in the multimedia work of Shanthi Chandrasekar, which is derived from Hinduism, theoretical physics and family history. The artist’s District of Columbia Arts Center show, “Journeys,” consists mostly of abstract paintings, but also includes sculpture, drawings, photographs, prints, videos and a scratchy audio piece. (It’s the sound of her pencil on paper.)
A Tamil Nadu native who now lives in the Maryland suburbs, Chandrasekar reveals a heady worldview in her titles. “Asymptotic Journeys - Wormhole” refers to her study of physics, while “Chakra” (wheel or turning) and “Karma” (action or cause) are terms from Indian philosophy and spirituality. Yet most of these pieces are visually accessible, employing such universal motifs as circles (notably in the series titled “Moksha,” the release of the soul from the cycle of life). And the artist’s outlook is intuitive and playful. Inspection of the seemingly all-black “Red Dots” shows one of the painted-over circles is still red around one edge. “It didn’t want to be covered,” said Chandrasekar with a smile.
If some pictures suggest the fabric of the universe, others just look like fabric. Until the generation before hers, Chandrasekar’s forebears were weavers, a profession she salutes with a video montage of a working loom. The patterns in her work also reflect the influence of kolam, the chalk and rice-flour drawings South Indian women execute on the ground in front of their homes to welcome visitors. The Chandrasekar piece titled “Kolam” is actually a 3-D construction, made of thread and foam atop a rectangular canvas.
Some kolams are more systematic than others, but at their most mathematical, the patterns relate to computer algorithms — another way that science, tradition and instinct converge. With their repeated forms and all-over designs, many of Chandrasekar’s paintings and drawings are little universes for the eye to wander. Yet the artist’s personality emerges, whether directly or vicariously. “Journeys” is both cosmic and autobiographical.
on view through Feb. 10 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW; 202-462-7833; www.dcartscenter.org.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of George Hemphill’s gallery, Hemphill Fine Arts. And it’s been two decades since Steven Cushner stopped making rounded-edge canvases. Those two histories overlap in “Steven Cushner: The Shaped Paintings, 1991-1993,” a Hemphill show that doesn’t seem backward-gazing. That might be because only one of the eight paintings (which are joined by two drawings) has ever been exhibited before. But it’s also because Cushner’s early-’90s work has a vigor that hasn’t dissipated.
Mostly executed in black or blue-black on white, the pictures use motifs — orbs, arcs, crescents — that lend themselves to curvilinear formats. Although there are some solid areas, Cushner more often defines forms with multiple, roughly parallel lines. This might sound rigidly geometric, and the D.C. painter does cite the influence of Frank Stella’s austere, late-’50s pinstripe compositions. But Cushner lets the diluted acrylic pigment drip, which provides both spontaneity and a vertical contrast to the lines, whose orientation tends toward the horizontal. In addition, he paints the basic design, paints over it and then paints it again, adding grit and depth.