Ross/Romano

Prints/Silkscreens
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Editorial Review


By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, July 7, 2013

John Ross and Clare Romano, married since 1943, have written and illustrated several books together, including “The Complete Printmaker,” a textbook that’s been in use for 40 years. As artists, the two work separately, although not in wildly divergent modes. The immaculately executed pictures in “Ross/Romano,” at the Old Print Gallery, demonstrate kindred styles and outlooks.

The New York--based couple’s works include lithographs, woodcuts, etchings and collagraphs. (The latter are printed from plates to which various objects have been affixed.) There are also two lushly detailed Romano paintings of fireworks over Venice; these 2008--09 acrylics on paper are the newest items in a show whose earliest dated piece is from 1951. The couple trained as painters, and color is as integral to their work as line.

The selection is arranged to show the artists’ visual affinities. Each depicts arid, dramatic vistas of the American Southwest, often using collagraphy’s ability to mix diverse textures. Ross’s “Buttes” and “Pueblo Summit” appear naturalistic from a distance, but a closer look shows their patchwork origins. Romano’s “Desert Ikon” is nearly abstract, with a complex middle section that reveals the shapes of small pieces of wood and metal.

The printmakers tend toward gently hued scenes, but a few of these works are literally darker. Romano’s delicate yet dramatically composed “Island Boats,” a pastel midday view from 1951, complements Ross’s “Brittany Harbor,” rendered in gentle nighttime hues a decade later. But his “Port” emphasizes a gray--and--black mountain that towers over the harbor, while her “Under Province­town Pier” is primarily black beams and shadows, with lighter colors used sparingly around the edges. The print’s robust architecture exemplifies both artists’ prowess at constructing a simple yet memorable vignette.

Benjamin Abramowitz began his career as a New Yorker, but he moved to the D.C. area in 1941 and stayed until his 2011 death. Although not considered a member of the Washington Color School, he painted vibrant abstracts during the same period that Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland were active here. Roughly two dozen of these long--unseen pictures, made between 1958 and 1967, are on display in “Undiscovered Color,” at Archer Modern.

Abramowitz used acrylic pigments, but unlike his local peers of the time, he didn’t dilute them so they could seep into the canvas. The paintings in this show emphasize bright, unthinned colors, especially reds and greens. Even those with paler shades, such as the yellow, pale--blue and off--white “Yellow #402,” are vivid. Although there are echoes of 1950s abstract expressionism, Abramowitz’s work is more modest in both gestures and scale; the smallest of these canvases are about two--foot square.

The painter owed more to Cubism than Pop Art, but there is something of the latter’s comics--derived directness in paintings such as the circa--1960 “Untitled,” which is dominated by a fistlike red shape that’s contoured to suggest depth. In form, the picture is not characteristic, but its bold color and crackling energy are shared by the other 21 paintings.

The “Guests” visiting Bill Rock’s show at Civilian Art Projects are arrayed on the walls, but they’re not wallflowers. Painted and drawn on paper with acrylics and pastels, the figures are boisterous and often larger than life. Some of these men ---- all the guests appear male ---- have oversize mouths and seem aggressively oral. A few of the D.C. artist’s subjects smoke emphatically, and one of the pictures depicts enough martinis to lubricate the whole party (if a party is what this is).

All the pictures, which include some larger gray--and--black ones on the floor and a selection of small sketches, are rendered loosely and energetically. Yet there are variations within Rock’s style. His work is often boldly colored but occasionally uses just black strokes and sepia tones. It’s always cartoonish, but in different ways. “Chef’s Smoke Break” has a classic simplicity, while the expressionist “The Guy Who Got to Work and Realized He Forgot His Mouth” is closer to Francis Bacon than a New Yorker drawing. In Rock’s edgiest renderings, his disorderly guests melt into utter chaos.

Wesley Clark’s “Targets and Goals,” also at Civilian, consists of three large pieces, all made of battered, painted and incised wood. According to Clark, the manhandled sculptures are a meditation on memory and history. But the wooden textures themselves are beguiling and illustrate how a natural substance, after being transformed and deformed, still retains much of its original character.

You are what you comb (or brush, or braid). So the 12 artists featured in “Hair Apparent,” at the Athenaeum, have photographed, drawn, woven, videotaped and fabricated works about what’s on their (and others’) heads. No Rogaine riffs here ---- all the contributors are women.

Curated by Twig Murray, the show ranges from highly specific treatments of its theme to more general musings on identity. Caryl Burtner’s “Locks of Hair from the Caryl Burtner Collection” is just that, with scissors and baggies so that visitors can add their own locks to the archive. Holly Bass’s short video, “Baptized (#14),” draws on African American gospel music and christening traditions, though it’s also a response to the difficulties of washing her thick, coiled tresses. As the artists who work with actual hair show, it’s a material that can be removed from the body but can never be entirely separated from the self.