Sculpture, paintings and photographs are included in David A. Yano’s show at Waverly Street Gallery, but the most striking pieces are mobiles, made primarily from wood. Dangling gracefully in midair, the assemblages appear carefree. But the exhibition is titled “Stroke of Genius” for a fraught reason: The work indirectly documents Yano’s path back from a stroke and also invokes other losses and traumas.
Yano, a Bethesda native, is of Japanese descent, and the austerity of his style suggests East Asian forms. The artist also draws on other cultures, notably by constructing “portals” that invoke the American Indian tradition of dream catchers. These pieces are mostly hanging wooden circles to which various symbolic objects have been attached. “Constantine’s Portal,” for example, features suspended stones, in memory of a departed friend, Washington Cathedral gargoyle sculptor Constantine Seferlis.
Perhaps the most personal portal is the one Yano made to exorcise his stint in the late-1960s U.S. military, where he and other Asian Americans were assigned to play Viet Cong guerrillas in training exercises. “PTSD Dream Catcher, Viet Nam Era: Bamboo, Can, Steel Wire” bristles with barbed wire and punji sticks, and includes a C-ration can. This piece is designed to hold nightmares, not dreams.
Yano’s art ranges from “imaginary landscape” paintings to such burly sculptures as “Angry Bear,” for which he used a chain saw to bring out the face he perceived in a raw chunk of wood. The show is dominated, however, by things that hang, contrasting weight and weightlessness.
“You are competing with Newton,” Yano says, “And sometimes, gravity works.”
That tussle is imperceptible in such blithe pieces as “Portal II,” whose 32 slats sway independently, and “Lollipop Tree,” whose red ceramic petals appear to be rooted from below but are actually hanging. With such airy works, Yano gets the drop on gravity.
The paintings and mixed-media works in “Maritime Musings” are also autobiographical, in a sense. They mingle the artist’s childhood fantasies with the stories that inspired them. Franck Cordes’s grandfather served in the French navy from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, sailing far from German-occupied France. Cordes has adapted one of grand-pere’s yarns into a picture book, “Boo Boo, the Bad Monkey,” and the artist’s canvases have the directness of children’s book illustrations. The paintings, on display at Studio 1469, depict ocean adventures with simple lines and bold colors.
The themes aren’t as guileless as the images. “Boyhood Heroes” puts oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, yacht racer Bernard Moitessier and pirate Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard) in the same frame; the combination shows how a boy’s enthusiasm for adventure makes allowances for piracy. Cordes also invokes the ancient world, giving some of his works Latin titles and daubing a maze on a saillike square of canvas and titling the result “Theseus’ Ship.” (Theseus was the demigod who entered Crete’s labyrinth and defeated the Minotaur.) Playfully, Cordes painted a sailor’s fantasy of a travel companion (female and nude) on a battered life preserver and projects clips of silent-era pirate movies on the sail of a model boat. The artist may celebrate seafaring bandits, but he does so in a spirit of innocence.
Established by Bethesda arts patron Carol Trawick in 2003, the annual Trawick Prize awards cash — first place is $10,000 — to four artists. Four of this year’s eight finalists are from Baltimore, along with three Washington area residents and a Richmonder. Their entries, on display at Gallery B, span traditional painting as well as the conceptual work of Joshua Wade Smith, seen earlier this year at the Hamiltonian Gallery, and David D’Orio. The latter (who took second place) constructs vehicles festooned with incongruous objects, such as a scooter draped in spoons and syringes.
The winner is Lillian Bayley Hoover, who executes detailed oils of buildings. Her tightly framed “Pergamon Altar” could depict a bit of the Hellenistic site in Turkey or a piece of the city’s plundered architecture that was installed in a Berlin museum in the early 20th century. Hoover’s paintings contrast Nate Larson’s blank photographs of blank American structures, which he cross-references with Twitter messages that originated from the same coordinates.
There’s also a sort of dialogue between Dean Kessmann’s black, gray and white “Test Strips” (which ranked third) and Diane Szczepaniak’s luminous color-field watercolors. Kessmann makes camera-less photograms, exposing photographic paper to light of various intensity (or none at all) to yield monochromatic yet rich individual patterns; these are amplified here by closely abutting 48 of the images. Szczepaniak applies thin layers of pigment, usually of one color family, to create a sense of depth. Although these glowing hues are contained in rectangular planes, they recall the flowing forms of Morris Louis’s “veils” — and also those paintings’ sheer beauty.
Szczepaniak titles her recent works after poems by Wallace Stevens or Friedrich Holderlin; the pictures in Micheline Klagsbrun’s “Kiss the Name of the 9 Muses Goodbye” are named for Dylan Thomas phrases and inspired by Ovid — her longtime muse. Rendered with colored inks and pencils, these works on paper are smaller and more abstract than the ones in the artist’s recent “Tree Fever” show. Those images mingled human and vegetative forms, as do a few of these, notably the elegantly arching “a nacreous sleep amid soft particles and sleep . . .” It’s one of the standouts, but so is “The Poppy of Sleep,” which depicts pure flora. While Klagsbrun succeeds in depicting what she calls “states of neither/both,” these near-liquid drawings also exalt color, texture and motion.
Interspersed with Klagsbrun’s delicate and colorful pieces are Tom Block’s paintings, which are raw, streaky and black on white. These 10 mixed-media works (from a series of 80) portray archetypes the artist dubs “mystics.” Such portraits as “Bunny Mystic” and “Politician and Aide Mystic” (captured at “the quintessential Washington, D.C. cocktail party”) combine the childlike crudity of underground comics with the excitation of abstract expressionism. When Block calls these characters mystics, he doesn’t mean they’re serene.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Oct. 6 at Waverly Street Gallery, 4600 East-West Hwy., Bethesda; 301-951-9441; waverlystreetgallery.com.
on view through Sept. 22 at Studio 1469, 1469 Harvard St. NW, rear; 202-518-0804; studio1469.com.
on view through Sept. 29 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave. #E, Bethesda; bethesda.org.
on view through Sept. 30 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, 301-922-0162, adahrosegallery.com.