Beguiling photographs at Randall Scott; neon sculpture, paintings at Heurich; Kurdish themes at Foundry

(Julia Fullerton Battern/ ) - Julia Fullerton-Batten’s photograph, \

(Julia Fullerton Battern/ ) - Julia Fullerton-Batten’s photograph, \"Cupboards,\" is part of a show at Randall Scott Projects.

For his first group exhibition at his temporary space, Randall Scott selected painters, mostly from New York and Los Angeles; his second is of photographers, and includes several from Europe. Neither lineup was chosen to highlight a particular theme, but some emerged nonetheless. Among the nine artists in “Untitled No. 2,” three address female identity and self-image.

Julia Fullerton-Batten depicts young women in several series, all of them a little ominous. For “Teenage Stories,” she photographed girls at European theme parks that feature model buildings. The results make her characters look normal in everything but scale, and prominent in a way that most adolescents struggle to avoid. The German-born British photographer’s “In Between” images depict dancers in mid-fall, with various props and safety devices digitally removed to make her subjects appear more at risk than they really were. Eeriest of all are the “School Play” photos, in which girls in matching blond wigs pose in such places as a library and a locker room. The faces are different, but the identity is communal — except for one woman in “Changing Room,” who abashedly stands out because blood is running down her leg.

(Courtesy Chris Anthony/RANDALL SCOTT PROJECTS) - Chris Anthony. ‘Venice No. 3,’ 48x48’, C-print.

(Image courtesy of Lee Marks Fine Art) - Jen Davis. ‘Primping’  2002  Archival Pigment Print.

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Jen Davis photographs plus-size women, also young and blond, in wistful scenes of attempted glamour or erotic longing. To add to the sense of alienation, the New York photographer sometimes poses her models with women who are conventionally alluring, such as a bikini-clad beach lounger in “Pressure Point” or a woman applying lipstick in “Primping.” Chris Anthony’s digitally compiled portraits are less psychological; the women the L.A. artist places in vast expanses are more visual motifs than characters. Still, there’s an implicit critique of classical art’s use of the female form in the white-on-white “Rebellion,” in which a woman in a voluminous dress imitates a sculpture, complete with plaster on her face.

There is one transvestite, but no women, in Marco Delogu’s “Cardinals and Criminals,” which puts clerics in the lineup with thugs. The Roman artist’s black-and-white Polaroids are stark and shadowy, but there’s a friskiness to the way he correlates the faces, all very serious about their respective callings. If John Waters doesn’t already collect Delogu’s work, he’ll probably start soon.

Christopher Griffith and Jenny Okun take very different approaches to landscape. The former’s black-and-white images of an industrial site and car-dealer pennants are so high-contrast that they suggest engravings. The latter’s collages of architectural details, composed in the camera but sometimes digitally enhanced, yield compositions that suggest such pattern-oriented miniaturists as Paul Klee, especially in more flat-seeming works such as “Olymbos Chapel, Karpathos, Greece.”

All but one of these artists shoot on film, although they may use digital technology to refine and print their work. The exception is Valentina de Matha, who doesn’t shoot at all. The Italo-Swiss artist hangs sheets of emulsified photo paper, streaked in chemical shades of gold, tan and gray. Her sculpture (which happens to be called “Untitled no. 2”) revels in form and shadow, but also laments what will be lost when all photography is digital: the lucky mistakes that yield beautiful metallic hues.

Craig Kraft and Camilo Sanin

The title “Unintentional Drawings” won’t seem that odd to gallerygoers with some grounding in dadaism and surrealism. Artists shaped by those movements have attempted to escape their own mind-sets by creating work through dreams or random choices. But the auteur of this small Heurich Gallery show is D.C.’s Craig Kraft, who’s well-known for his neon sculptures. How can a sculpture be a drawing, let alone unintentional?

The answer is that Kraft has taken scraps of paper on which he doodled or jotted notes, and faithfully reproduced their squiggles with bent tubes full of glowing gas. Using only shades of blue, the artist made compositions of multilayered swoops and scrawls, amid which some numbers and words can be discerned. Craft has long “drawn” lines with curving or jagged neon tubes, but those were disembodied and ethereal.

These two sculptures intentionally show the man, and the technology, behind the curtain. The show also displays the original doodles — “found objects,” Kraft calls them — and the rear of the sculptures, so viewers can see the lineups of transformers and the tips of the glass tubes, some of which pulse with blue vapor. Like Roy Lichtenstein’s giant sculptures of brushstrokes, Kraft’s “Unintentional Drawings” both celebrate and demystify artistic technique.

Also at Heurich are five paintings by Camilo Sanin, a D.C. artist whose bold canvases draw on the 1960s tradition of hard-edged color-field paintings, but also the tropical hues of his native Colombia. Among the most alluring of these highly rhythmic works is “Confluence,” whose colors undulate, and “Dissolution,” which hides a few glimmers of red amid the sharp sticks of green and blue.

Lukman Ahmad

To conjure the spirit of his home region, Syrian-Kurdish artist Lukman Ahmad does mixed-media paintings that combine folkloric colors and themes with elements of the boldly simplified styles of such 20th-century European masters as Picasso and Matisse. “A Small Hope,” at Foundry Gallery, shows a variety of approaches, but most of the larger pictures depict women in brightly hued clothing; they sit, stand, dance or play instruments on fields of white oil paint, into which Ahmad has incised simple designs. There are also a few colorful portraits of women’s faces, and some small abstractions topped with ribbons of freely applied white pigment.

These pictures are lively and appealing, but they’re overshadowed by four other canvases that use similar techniques to express a very different theme. Ahmad’s “Al-Anfal Campaign” paintings commemorate the victims of Saddam Hussein’s 1986-89 poison-gas attacks on Kurds (and other minorities). These somber pictures show gray-skinned people, shrouded in black, and earth-toned backgrounds that suggest the Kurdish landscape. The artist employs many of the same practices as in his sunnier work, but to different effect. The background drawings he renders by etching the paint, for example, are used in these works to show the ghostly figures of Hussein’s victims. Particularly striking is a vision of a boy, his head encircled by gold-leaf halo, with newspaper clippings on one side. It’s a haunting reminder of the humanity behind what, for most in the West, was just item in the international news column.

Untitled No. 2

On view through Aug.25 at Randolph Scott Projects, 2030 Eighth St. NW; 202-262-5468; www.randallscottprojects.com/

Craig Kraft: Unintentional Drawings, Paintings by Camilo Sanin

On view through Sept. 12 at Heurich Gallery, 505 Ninth St. NW; 202-223-1626; www.downtowndc.org/go/the-heurich-gallery.

Lukman Ahmad:

A Small Hope

On view through Sept. 2 at Foundry Gallery, 1314 18th St. NW; 202-463-0203; www.foundrygallery.org.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

 
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