By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, August 11, 2013
David Hollowell is based in California, but he’s reasonably well known in Washington, where he’s shown for three decades at Jane Haslem Gallery. But the realist painter has reinvented himself, as can be seen in the gallery's current exhibition, “the mind / the line / the image.” He’s still a realist of sorts, but his newer work uses shading, modeling and perspective to depict perfected forms at play. In “Floating Balls,” a pencil drawing, spheres levitate over a textured square, suggesting the Platonic ideal of a billiards table. Rendered in rusty shades of charcoal, “Pipes and Floating Squares” produces such a strong illusion of depth as to appear almost sculptural. The pair of “Concave” and “Convex,” with their circles and shadows, illustrate their titles with immaculate simplicity.
Hollowell is not the only draftsman of uncanny skill represented in this 18--artist selection. Julie Schneider’s pencil drawings of arranged roses are impossibly lush, even entirely in shades of gray. Neena Birch’s colored--pencil drawings of flowers, as well as a shell--like shape nestled in grass, are as precise as they are vibrant. They also add some color to this mostly black--and--white show, which ranges from originals of comic strips ---- “Pogo,” “Peanuts” and a 1938 “Winnie Winkle” ---- to two large, atmospheric portraits in Peter Milton’s “Aspern Papers” series.
None of these drawings and prints could be termed loose, but some push toward abstraction. Eve Stockton’s woodcut, “Big Seascape diptych,” emphasizes the serene pattern created by choppy waves, and Tom Edwards’s “Backyard Archaeology” and sepia--toned “Cosmic Landfill” find beauty in the randomly scattered. Among the strongest works are Stephen Talasnik’s three ink--and--pencil drawings, crosshatched and vaguely urban. Robust yet delicate, these conjure a messier universe than Hollowell’s works, but one that is no less fascinating.
The forms are evident but their significance can be ambiguous in “Nostalgia Structures,” the four--artist show at Brentwood Arts Exchange. Tehran--born Hidieh Ilchi recalls her heritage by inserting bits of classical Persian--style illustration into her colorful, mostly abstract works, which sometimes use 3D elements to break the picture frame. That may even be a self--portrait in the monumental “Listen to My Song of Freedom,” whose billowing hues echo the flowing long black hair of a woman who’s using a megaphone to address the chaos.
Rachel Schmidt’s drawings and constructions include “Infestation,” a pileup of models of high--rise buildings that also includes ship--like hulls. The textural details are digital prints, affixed to foam and cardboard. Even larger, but less specifically architectural, is Megan Mueller’s asymmetrical “Seeking Symmetry.” It’s mostly wooden pieces, with a chevron motif, that lean against a wall. But the artist suggests that the assemblage is becoming part of ---- or receding from ---- the surface that supports it by attaching similar contact--paper shapes to the vertical partition.
Si Jae Byun is the only participant whose work doesn’t enter the third dimension, but that doesn’t mean she lacks a sense of structure. Her paintings, rendered on silk with acrylic and ink, balance hard and soft, color and line. At the center are coiling, interlaced forms that suggest flowers, clouds, mountains and other natural contours. These are framed by mottled backgrounds and contrasted by drips of thinned pigments. “Hee--No--Ae--Rak” puckishly turns the dribbles upside down, defying gravity. Whichever way they go, the watery traces add spontaneity to Byun’s tightly constructed pictures.
Wood, visual puns and manipulated self--images are among the motifs of “Academy 2013,” Connersmith’s 13th annual survey of work by recent area art--school graduates. Jason Edward Tucker presents a “self--portrait” that’s his own weight in branches, bundled together and painted gold, as well as a photographic portrait with an obliterated face. Jeremiah Holland’s “Wall Table #2” is a wooden slice of horizontal mountaintop, mounted on curved legs. Pat McGowan makes large, spidery wooden forms, only to cover them in asphalt or shards of battered traffic cones. Perhaps a self--portrait, Steven Skowron’s “The Divine Within” is a black--and--white double exposure of a face and a cross that resembles a still from a German expressionist film.
Abstract painting is in short supply, but among the more striking pieces are two stark black--and--white canvases by Ryan McCoy, who mixes ash, pine needles and seawater into his acrylics. Of Laura Payne’s two compositions of colored horizontal stripes, the attention--getting one is “WYSIWYG,” which projects changing light patterns on the acrylic bands. It’s not as high--tech as Leo Villareal’s computerized LED “paintings,” which Connersmith showed last year, but beguiling nonetheless.
The five artists in “Raising Dust,” at Carroll Square Gallery, all work with earth. Melissa Mytty combines porcelain and plexiglass in fanciful small animal figures, and Matt Ziemke’s constructions suggest industrial landscapes, while adding another mineral to the assortment: salt. Matthew Alden Price constructs wood--and--ceramic wall pieces that also employ acrylic, lacquer and polyurethane; although the format and nature motifs suggest Greco--Roman bas--reliefs, the playfulness is modern.
Akemi Maegawa draws on another ancient tradition, depicting flowers, fish and birds on blue--and--white scrolls in an East Asian style; these hangings serve as backdrops for cloud--like forms that are made of ceramic and, thus, undercut the expectation of fluffiness. Margaret Boozer also makes things from soil, but her contribution to this show simply contemplates the stuff. “Dirt Book” is a series of photos that portray ---- and celebrate ---- sand, pebbles, dried mud and ice that glazes the earth. These images show earth so rich in patterns and colors that it defies any attempt to exalt it further.
The Jane Haslem Gallery, located just around the corner from the Phillips Collection on Hillyer Place specializes in American art made in the second half of the 20th century. Haslem shows both paintings and works on paper, but her main reputation is as a veteran dealer of prints made between 1950 and the present, a period she calls America's "printmaking renaissance."
Haslem began her business in the 1960s, showing the work of the "innovators in printmaking who arrived in the U.S. after World War II." She says these artists "took prints out of the drawer and put them on the wall" in larger-scale formats than had been seen before. Over the years, Haslem has regularly shown top-notch etchings, lithographs, silkscreen or woodcut prints by Mauricio Lasansky, Gabor Peterdi (who ran the influential printmaking school at Yale), Josef Albers, Antonio Frasconi, Karl Schrag, Will Barnet, Leonard Baskin and June Wayne.
Haslem, who started out as a painter, opened her first gallery in Chapel Hill, N.C., then moved to Madison, Wis., with her husband before launching a gallery space in Washington in 1969. In 1987 she moved to her present location, a century-old stone town house that originally housed the Holton-Arms School, before the private girls school moved to Bethesda.
The galleries are on two lower floors, which have white walls but not the austere atmosphere of most contemporary art spaces. Bay windows, a fireplace, grand piano and grandfather clock create an elegant atmosphere for looking at the art. Haslem holds regular exhibits, but asks prospective viewers to visit by appointment. As for the prices of prints on sale, she says, "You can have a nice etching for $100 to $125, or you can buy a $20,000 Richard Diebenkorn print from me." Paintings range from $2,500 to $50,000.
-- C.J. Mills