By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, October 13, 2013
The transience of existence is fixed permanently in Marissa Long’s fascinating photographs of piled--up, mostly organic materials. The images in “Offerings,” at Civilian Art Projects, are beautifully lighted, carefully composed and rooted in Western fine--art tradition. They recall those still--life paintings that contemplate mortality, or simply flaunt a hunter’s latest victims. But the evocation of death and decay isn’t necessarily grim. There’s also an agreeably playful side to Long’s work that suggests she’s more of a surrealist than a classicist.
In such compositions as “Halves Huddle,” the subject seems self--evident. It’s a pile of cut fruit and vegetables in the beginnings of putrefaction, its messiness countered by golden light. Other pictures, however, are more ambiguous. In “Honey Snakes,” reptilian coils twist through a visual pun: a mound of flour and flowers. But is the partially seen serpent real or rubber?
Such cagey juxtapositions prompt double takes and prolonged inspections. The principal ingredients of “Animal” are a brown wig and a slice of red, meat--like matter. The photo suggests a creature whose furry flesh has been cleaved, or perhaps a human whose skull has been split. The intent could be to highlight the fragility of life, or just to fool the eye.
The deteriorated items in Long’s photos are not always organic; she also shows dripping, half--melted candles and bits of confetti whose colors have run after being doused with water. Pitting the banal against the beautiful, “Rainbow Gelatin” piles some potato chips against a mound of shimmery, prismatic goo. The gelatin, like these pictures’s mushrooms, fish, sponges and such, must have been soft and yielding. But here, photographed crisply against a black background, it becomes as hard as a diamond. As Long’s models rot, this impeccably rendered instant will shine on.
Making sculpture can be heavy work, and “This Is Labor: Washington Sculptors Group Juried Exhibition” includes some monumental pieces. But this exhibition, curated by Anne Reeve and Claire D’Alba and on display at Visarts’ Kaplan Gallery, includes relatively little stone and steel. Millicent Young’s “(un)Furl” hangs a curtain of horsehair from a dried grapevine, and several other entries are made principally of fabric. One of them, Elsabe Dixon’s “One Hundred Silk Discs,” adds a conceptual flourish by charting how much the hanging circles are worth at different levels of compensation, from minimum wage to master’s degree.
Some of the artists turn hard materials into lighter forms. Nizette Brennan’s “Labor” is mostly stone but suggests a pair of oversized wooden shoes. Jeffrey Cooper’s “A Character” uses nine planks of wood to mimic calligraphic strokes. Paul Steinkoenig and Adam Robert Hager both repurpose industrial material into unexpectedly delicate constructions; the former’s “Building Blocks” uses glass block, salvaged steel and copper pipes in three airy boxes, while the latter’s “Jack’s a dull boy” is a standing paddle of reclaimed wood, framed by tire tread.
Still, the brawnier work does attract attention. Jan Paul Acton’s “Tower Five,” made mostly of Indiana limestone, has totemic power. John Ruppert’s “Core with Rocks” seems to contrast man--made and natural but is actually trickier than that. The artist places spirals of steel wire, of the sort used to hold rocks in place to prevent erosion, amid what seem to be three boulders. In fact, the large stones are cast iron, which means this burly tableau also has a conceptual twist.
Riverdale artist Judy Stone seeks the ineffable, by whatever route is available. Her show at Visarts’ Gibbs Street Gallery, “View from a Minor Heaven,” includes drawings, paintings, video and installations, linked less by style than by themes and visual motifs. She arrays the color spectrum, for example, both with a procession of candles up a metal staircase and in a series of videos, playing on seven stacked monitors and each tinted a different hue. Stone evokes a sense of spiritual headway, whether upward or roundabout in a cosmic circle symbolized by the color wheel.
The artist writes that she’s inspired by Eastern religions, but that can’t include the more austere forms of Buddhism. Her work is tangled and exuberant, featuring contrasting elements and multiple media. Stone “draws” with vinyl tape, making elaborate chart--like pieces, and diagrams inner lives atop the blank bodily outlines of shooting--range targets. The show’s installations include red neon squiggles and a video of flames, projected on a wax model of a human torso. Although her work features ladders and stairways, Stone’s quest for heaven often gazes inward.
For most of the four decades he taught at the College of Southern Maryland, Larry Chappelear painted landscapes, often of sites near the La Plata campus. But the artist, who died in 2011, switched his approach in 2002, moving to landscape--inspired abstraction. Examples of both styles are included in “Dynamic Spaces,” at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, but the nonrepresentational works dominate, in both number and impact.
These pieces are not merely paintings. They incorporate collage and sculpture, with wood, burlap and cardboard among the ingredients. Interestingly, the orientation shifts with the style. The landscapes tend to be horizontal, while the abstractions are vertical and sometimes suggest the built rather than the natural environment. The implied openings in “Room with a Sunset Ocean View” suggest doors and windows. The artist’s later work didn’t reach unexplored territory; “Battle Creek IV,” with its strong blacks and red, recalls Picasso. But Chappelear’s combine paintings did give his career a final burst of energy.