By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Like so many Western printmakers, Michael Hagan is taken with Japan’s wood block tradition. “Tessellations, Tentacles and Tattoo,” Hagan’s show at Washington Printmakers Gallery, includes geishas and Japanese text, as well as a few octopi, a venerable motif from Hokusai’s erotic prints. But Hagan doesn’t actually make wood blocks ---- he creates screenprints, also known as silkscreens ---- and he jumbles Japanese imagery with other elements. Characteristic is “Fusion,” which sticks a geisha’s head atop the iconic picture of Marilyn Monroe with a billowing skirt, and then adds a soup can borrowed from Andy Warhol ---- another artist with a thing for silkscreens.
Hagan doesn’t always load his prints with that many juxtapositions. “Cityscape” is a view of Glover Park, given an expressionistic twist by a Van Gogh--like swirling sky. “Ginny” simply translates Leonardo da Vinci’s oil portrait “Ginevra de’ Benci” (which belongs to the National Gallery) into screenprinting’s tiled blocks (also known as tessellations).
Calling attention to printed shapes that combine to simulate reality seems to be Hagan’s calling. In his “Sheep (Going Abstract),” three animals simplify into lines and dots as they meander to the left. Much the same happens in “Damsels Devolving,” which features a bevy of pinup princesses in black and white. In the latter work, though, some of the women’s faces break down not into dots but into multi--planed Picasso--like masks.
Also at Washington Printmakers, Susan Carney is showing a set of monotypes, a form of printmaking that transfers pigment from a hard surface. Butterflies are the focus of the series, which amplifies the repeated form with rich hues, mottled textures and expressive compositions. Like Hagan, Carney seeks to illuminate the process, which is why the show is titled “Responding to the Plate.” The artist employs hand--cut metal stencils as well as zinc plates that are sometimes wrapped in fabric, and she includes some of each in the show. The ink--stained objects help explain the technique, but they’re also lovely in their own right.
Photographer Julia Fullerton--Batten finds her models on the street, but she’s no chronicler of random urban eccentricity. The German--born, London--based artist’s images are about as far as possible from Diane Arbus’s stark, black and white vignettes. Fullerton--Battenmakes carefully staged, complexly lighted color tableaux. Her recent series, “Unadorned,” depicts the human form, nude but hardly raw.
These large--format portraits, at Randall Scott Projects, suggest Old Master paintings, although most of the subjects are too corpulent even to be termed “Rubenesque.” While Fullerton--Batten is known for depicting adolescent girls, here she focuses on older figures, a few of them male. Most are inside rooms that are lighted partially, and dramatically, by diffused sunlight.
Individual stories are suggested, if not fully told, by locations and props. One model is entwined in cassette tape, while another has text written on, and mostly erased from, his flesh. Nature is a unifying theme. The subject who’s closest to being outside stands in a greenhouse full of unruly vegetation, and other models pose near more domesticated flora. A man lounges on a table that also holds rotting fruit, and a woman reclines with an uprooted plant in the foreground and a botanical print on the wall behind her. These pictures juggle the disturbing and the idealized, yet their lush colors and sumptuous illumination verge on the Edenic.
All the pieces in “Working on Wood: Paintings by Christopher French, Nathan Oliveira, Maria Moser, Sam Gilliam, Sabina Ott, Barbara Allen, Kitty Klaidman and Andrea Way” are on panels or planks. This survey of work by regulars at Marsha Mateyka Gallery includes some paintings that are simply mounted on wood. But many of the contributors highlight the material, often by cutting it.
Allen’s elegant “Walking Around” comprises two slabs of wood, one painted brown and the other blue, and incised with contrasting patterns. Similarly, Ott’s multilayered “Sub Rosa #13” carves motifs onto a mix of wax and oil paint atop a mahogany panel, and Way’s “Pearlescent Pools” is a grid of watery ink blotches, each one surrounded by intricate markings etched into birch.
Some emphasize wooden textures. In three coastal landscapes rendered with acrylic washes, Klaidman employs the grain to suggest both rippling water and soft sunlight. Moser paints on weathered lumber, which suits her rough--hewn image of what appears to be a glowing coal. Gilliam’s three offerings are the most emphatic, pitting the free, sensuous flow of color against the right angles of wooden constructions. For Gilliam, using wood is another way to escape the simple geometry of the picture plane and blur the line between painting and sculpture.
In her previous show at Studio Gallery, Micheline Klagsbrun riffed on a mythological tale in which a woman becomes a tree. Her new exhibition, “Wildflowers,” doesn’t derive from such a story but still has a strong sense of metamorphosis. The artist’s wildflowers, mostly orchids, are rendered on translucent vellum in colored pencil and flowing ink that seems to have dried just a few seconds ago. “Ghost Orchid,” with its vivid blues, and “Hibiscus Mutabilis,” with its bold red accents, are among the most immediately striking. But vigor and delicacy balance gracefully in each one.