By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, February 9, 2014
There are plentiful ways to make an art print, which almost guarantees diversity in a survey such as “Hoi Polloi,” whose title is Greek for “the many.” But the exhibition, at VisArts’s Kaplan Gallery, doesn’t simply showcase ink--on--paper techniques. The selection, chosen by Maryland College Institute of Art professor Brian Garner, includes work that pushes beyond line and color.
This can be as simple as Eva Wylie’s screen prints of flowers and leaves, which break the surface with collaged paper elements. Also modest in scope, if not in theme, are Jamaica--born Rachel Henriques’s small historical images of colonialism and slavery, displayed inside clear plastic bags that usually contain Jamaican food products.
James Bouche and Hermonie Only put their prints under glass; the former finished his black--on--black piece with spray paint, while the latter placed a mirror in a narrow gap that greatly limits the possible views. Working on a larger scale, Luis Flores printed patterns onto roofing felt and arranged coils of the material in a standing assemblage.
The array also includes more traditional work, such as Ruth Channing’s etching “Death and the Maiden,” which updates a classical theme. Bill Flick’s faces, one in color and two in bold black--and--white, have the directness and vitality of a more recent medium, underground comics. Alan Grabelsky works from photographs to make visually degraded images of Middle East conflict and reactions to it.
On facing walls, two artists show the appeal of very different techniques. David Brown’s silver--on--black lithographs of the numerals one through nine are intricate and painstaking, while Raoul Middleman’s colorful monotypes retain the spontaneity of drawing. Their directness is no less artful than the most complicated gambits in this intriguingly variegated show.
Downstairs at Gibbs Street Gallery, Sumita Kim’s “In Limbo” contemplates death and near--death. Inspired in part by a friend who has long been in a vegetative state, the Korean--born local artist has painted a series of disembodied heads, mostly with shaved pates. The only figure with a body stands behind a symmetrical array of objects; a few of them are flowers, but most resemble internal organs. Most distant are two small visages that appear to be beneath the surface of large color fields, gazing out through holes clawed into the paint. Whether the faces are seen as receding or emerging, the effect is equally eerie.
Compared with “Hoi Polloi,” the Old Print Gallery’s “Winter Contemporary Show” is more conventional in both subject and form. As usual at this venue, however, the quality is high and the range of styles is broad. In such pieces as Jake Muirhead’s exquisite rendering of a strawberry and Art Werger’s subtly colored etching of a heathered highland, every line is utterly certain.
The dominant mode is the realism of Muirhead and Werger (both of whom contribute beautifully detailed if quite different seascapes), also seen in Cleo Wilkinson’s pomegranates and Eric Goldberg’s radishes. Other pictures are representational but less literal: Karima Muyaes’s “The Game” depicts two nudes in a style that suggests both Picasso and ancient Hellenic art. The show also includes the sheer abstraction of Susan Goldman’s “Oculus I and II,” circular monotypes that combine delicate filigree with bold colors, and two in Heather McMordie’s “Not Made for Each Other” series. The latter prints, with bits cut away, float in boxes where their pieces can cast shadows; that allows the dance of presence and absence, common in printmaking, to push gently into another dimension.
One of Washington’s most installation--inclined arts spaces, Flashpoint is often filled with temporary constructions. Currently, it’s enmeshed by Lindsay Pichaske’s “Everything That Rises,” a string web that spans the entire gallery and is denser at each end. It’s accompanied by three “drawings” made of human hair tied to muslin backdrops. These depict the heads of a mare, a deer and an ape, their outlined shapes clearly evident among some random, fly--away strands.
The link between the D.C. artist’s big piece and the smaller ones isn’t simply that all are diaphanous. In the midst of “Everything That Rises’s” gossamer framework is a suspended three--dimensional animal head. With wisps of hair, it conjures eyes, ears and snout. Although the works on muslin and the one in midair are similarly ethereal, the latter is more evocative. According to Pichaske, her hair rendering “blurs the lines between life and death.” But the hanging countenance is not only more ghostly than its near--flat cousins, it’s also more alive.
Every winter, Watergate Gallery mounts a show of sunny paintings from Port--au--Prince’s Rainbow Gallery. As in previous years, many of this year’s works portray markets, weddings and other sociable places and events. Emmanuel Joseph and Pierre Maxo’s Henri Rousseau--like depictions of jungles show peaceable kingdoms, where such non--indigenous beasts as zebras, giraffes and panthers strike poses amid lush foliage and fruit.
None of this is challenging, either stylistically or thematically. There are no images of poverty or earthquake devastation; the paintings that include folk--art surrealism or voodoo symbols are less ominous than the typical Hollywood creature feature. (There is, in fact, a supernatural scene titled “Loup Garou,” French for werewolf.) The more distinctive paintings include Stivenson Magloire’s African--style “Ayibobo,” Abbott Bonhomme’s richly detailed “Jungle” and Reynald Joseph’s “Famile a l’Eglise,” a street scene whose angularity verges on Cubism. Each of these three pictures displays an individual sensibility amid work that sometimes takes an assembly--line approach to subtropical whimsy.