D.C. gallery shows from Martin Swift, Steven Cummings, BK Adams.I Am Art and others


Rob Corradetti. “Live and Let Live,” on view at Civilian Art Projects. (Courtesy Rob Corradetti and Civilian Art Projects)
August 16, 2013

At a time when many musicians’ publicity efforts begin and end with Facebook, gig posters might seem to be obsolete. But they’re still produced, often with a care that suggests they’re designed to be collector’s items. Among the highlights of “Permanent Summer,” the array of screen prints and illustrations at Civilian Art Projects, are promo pieces for such indie-rock acts as Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin. Indeed, Michelle Cable, whose Panache Booking schedules such performers, is one of the show’s curators. (The others are Rob Corradetti of Killer Acid, which markets posters, T-shirts and “other psychedelic ephemera,” and Mike Zimmerman; both Corradetti and Zimmerman are also featured artists.)

Yet what links these colorful, irreverent pieces is not function but sensibility. Whether they’re mass-produced and businesslike or one-of-a-kind and personal, the images draw from such playfully scary commercial-art traditions as sci-fi paperbacks, tough-guy fiction, ’50s-horror and ’60s-underground comics, acid- and punk-rock posters and record sleeves, and Japanese manga and anime. Many of the 30 artists or design firms represented here were influenced by David Sandlin, the pulp-happy illustrator who teaches at New York’s School of Visual Arts. But the raw ingredients for their styles are widely available, from newsstands and used-book stores to billboards and fast-food eateries.

“Permanent Summer” includes flawlessly rendered and impeccably retro posters by Maryland’s El Jefe Design, as well as some offhand sketches on lined notebook sheets. Most are works on paper, but Bert Bergen has transferred his line drawings to pieces of shaped, black-veneered wood. There’s even, among all this brazenly representational imagery, an abstraction: Maya Hayuk’s elegant monoprint, “Color Test #1.”

Whatever form they take, these pictures are heavily reliant on received ideas and established forms. But then indie-rock poster-makers and latter-day psychedelic visionaries are hardly the only artists facing that quandary these days.

Permanent Summer

On view through Sept. 7 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 7th St NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com

Chocolate City Rest in Peace

Observant Washington pedestrians have surely seen Steven M. Cummings’s face. He’s plastered the same photographic self-portrait — bowler hat, round-frame glasses, furry collar raised around his neck — all over town. But his “Chocolate City Rest in Peace,” at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, has nothing to do with that conceptual project. These large-format black-and-white photos, made between 1995 and 2005, document the African American D.C. that Cummings discovered when he moved here in 1991 — at what he calls “the beginning of the end of the majority black city.”

Cummings occasionally refers to other artworks in his titles. A deadpan portrait of an older couple with a wire shopping basket is labeled “Urban Gothic,” after Grant Wood’s much-seen (and much-parodied) “American Gothic.” But the “Chocolate City” photos are more journalistic than arty, depicting details of life in downtown, Shaw and Northeast, not so long ago. (All the pictures are identified by approximate location.) Graffiti, a go-go poster and members of the Nation of Islam feature in the photos, which have a funereal tone that suits the show’s title. Of course, some of what Cummings wistfully portrays would have perished regardless of what flavor or flavors D.C. had become.

Steven M. Cummings: Chocolate City Rest in Peace

On view through Aug. 30 at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE, 202-365-8392, www.vividsolutionsgallery.com

BK Adams.I Am Art

A swing made from driftwood hangs near the entrance to Honfleur Gallery, where BK Adams.I Am Art — that’s his full brand name — presents an intentionally motley array of paintings, sculpture and mixed-media assemblages. Grass covers part of the floor, identifying the show, “Mynd Up,” as a playground. Adams’s work suggests Sam Gilliam’s draped canvases, Jackson Pollock’s spattered paintings and Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, but also the rule-free art created by children. The show includes a sculpture that piles house-paint cans atop a toy truck, and that swing piece is titled “Forever Young.”

Like Cummings, Adams has turned his face into an icon: a high-contrast image of himself in beard, beret and binocular-like goggles. The starkness of that self-portrait contrasts his crazy-quilt style, which incorporates found objects and random gestures, but also demonstrates considerable skill. Adams paints on pairs of jeans, and frames a painting with the pieces of a land-line telephone. He also constructs totem-like sculptures of iron, whose placement on grass makes “Mynd Up” resemble a sculpture garden. Despite its diversity, the selection holds together well. But these pieces might make even more sense outside, where they would fully be part of the urban fabric they reflect.

BK Adams.I Am Art: Mynd Up

On view through Aug. 30 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE, 202-365-8392, www.honfleurgallery.com

Paradox of Masculinity

The fleshy naked men in Martin Swift’s current show are grouped under a sweeping title, “Paradox of Masculinity,” yet they’re not archetypes. These life-sized oils depict Swift’s friends, mostly pals from art school, and the sporting items they hold are designed to show specific personalities, not generic male competitiveness. “Oscar’s” bowling ball reflects his outsized personality, while “Tyler’s” golf club is meant to suggest a quieter, more cerebral disposition.

Several well-known contemporary artists, notably Philip Pearlstein, render nudes in a modernist-realist mode somewhat similar to Swift’s. But the young D.C. artist currently paints only men, and with more warmth than his elders. Swift’s painterly approach and mottled backgrounds soften the clinical quality of the mostly full-frontal portraits.

The exhibition is open on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. at a temporary space dubbed Above the Bike Shop. Swift will be present at those times, possibly with paintbrush in hand. His ongoing work continues the male-nude theme, but in the mode of “Austin,” the only picture in the bunch that shows just the head and upper body.

Martin Swift: Paradox of Masculinity

On view through Aug. 31 at Above the Bike Shop, 2593 Champlain St. NW, www.mrtnswft.com

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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