Deep texture and cuts turn paintings into sculpture

(Courtesy James Busby and Randall Scott Projects/ Courtesy James Busby and Randall Scott Projects ) - James Busby’s “Blind Pilot,” 2013. 24x20”, Gesso, graphite, oil and acrylic on MDF.

(Courtesy James Busby and Randall Scott Projects/ Courtesy James Busby and Randall Scott Projects ) - James Busby’s “Blind Pilot,” 2013. 24x20”, Gesso, graphite, oil and acrylic on MDF.

South Carolina artist James Busby is sort of a sculptor, but the raw materials he shapes are his own paintings. “Smoke and Mirrors,” at Randall Scott Projects, comprises 15 pictures, most of them executed on panels. The artist uses oils and acrylics, and also gesso and graphite, which provide a skin that appears shiny and sometimes metallic after it’s sanded and polished. He then cuts into the works with an industrial router, leaving grooves that may be left unfinished, or painted with a contrasting color.

Busby uses lots of black, and some of his finished works seem to be nothing but ebony rectangles scarred with cuts. These paintings are deeply textured, though, and a closer look reveals more. The striking “Trace,” for example, has a layer of blue below its skin; it glimmers subtly through the notches in the black exterior.

The artist doesn’t exclude brighter hues. “Breeze” stretches dozens of parallel pink bands horizontally across its mostly gray background, and the aqua (and boxy composition) of “Submarines” suggests Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” series. “Sideline” shifts from mottled black to a series of green and then red pinstripes.

Some of the pieces are etched with labyrinthine patterns rather than straight lines, and others have edges that are notched or curved. The use of shaped canvases and woodworking tools suggests a master plan, but Busby works on instinct. He layers and removes and then layers again, until it looks right. As in 1960s color-field painting, the surface is everything. These multi-level pictures, however, possess many surfaces, some more evident than others but all contributing to the total effect.

James Busby:

Smoke and Mirrors

On view through May 25 at Randall Scott Projects, 1326 H St. NE, second floor; 202-417-4872; randallscottprojects.com.

Chris Trueman

and Alison Rash

Like Busby, young California artist Chris Trueman pits hard lines against soft colors. The latter uses masking tape and spray paint to create the banks of stripes that cross (and sometimes crisscross) his canvases. The regularly spaced bands sometimes dominate, but they’re not the only element in these pictures, currently on display at Adah Rose Gallery. The compositions also feature areas of freely applied paint. The result suggests a mashup of op art and abstract expressionism, although Trueman’s style is more graceful than that description might suggest.

It is, in fact, intuitive and often delicate. The paintings’ strips sometimes undulate, or exist only as an absence, as Trueman also uses tape to pull pigment off the canvas. The brush-painted colors look airy, or sometimes watery, offsetting the spray-painted geometric forms. The complex “CO” features vertical lines at the top and horizontal swoops at the bottom, with blue splashes that suggest surf. Given the work’s complex layers, however, such associations can hardly be definitive. A single viewer could easily enjoy multiple views of the same painting, as the various elements emerge or recede from the picture plane.

The gallery also is showing work by Alison Rash, a colleague and former classmate of Trueman. (Both received MFAs from Claremont Graduate University in 2010.) While Trueman has settled into a style with myriad possibilities, Rash is in a transitional phase. Some of her paintings are fields of abutting rhomboids, rendered in bright colors on white backgrounds. But her most recent work is more open, and combines acrylic with pencil. These paintings have a drawinglike quality, and move Rash’s style further from the density of Trueman’s work.

Energy. Ecstasy. Edge.

On view through June 16 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, 301-922-0162, adahrosegallery.com.

Lara Bandilla

Hamburg-born, Berlin-based Lara Bandilla has spent most of her life in a handful of German cities. But the paintings in “Of Time and Light,” her Hillyer Art Space show, don’t feel rooted in place. Bandilla depicts a world in flux, whether jungle is collapsing into town (“Breathe”) or two metropolises are fusing into one (“Shanghai Cologne”). The dreamlike pictures include areas of near-photographic realism, but also sections where the image seems to melt — more in the manner of Gerhard Richter’s photo-derived blurs than Salvador Dali’s drippy surrealism.

Bandilla’s palette is heavy on blue, with occasional red counterpoints. But the transitions often involve hot white, which both illuminates and obscures, like sunlight so bright that it temporarily blinds. Time is harder to depict, but the artist conjures a sense of movement, both with impressionistic style and in the choice of locales. The paintings often show streets and other passageways, notably a swoop of earth that follows a rail line. The eye is drawn in several directions, including toward the frayed seam between memory and actuality.

Of Time and Light

On view through May 31 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW; 202-338-0680; artsandartrists.org.

John Cole

Although he’s not a painter, John Cole is as interested as Busby and Trueman in color field compositions. The photographer’s “The Walls,” at Cross Mackenzie Gallery, looks at facades and sees ready-made compositions. His large-format photos are all horizontal, but the patterns within can be vertical. “Carriage House Wall” is yellow and lined, like a legal pad, while “Vineyard Barn Wall” depicts a covering of corrugated metal panels, with hundreds of upright grooves but a few joints that run perpendicularly.

Cole’s lines are not as pristine as in a geometric drawing, of course. The exteriors he captures are rich with knocked-about textures, including weathered paint and rusted metal. The juxtapositions can be subtle, as in “Cattle Barn Wall,” which contrasts white-painted metal with white-painted wood, or “Pier Three Warehouse,” whose patchy segments are all the same basic shade of red. The titles give some sense of what these walls enclose, but that’s peripheral to the pictures. As in a color-field painting, anything besides the surface doesn’t count.

The Walls

On view through June 16 at Cross Mackenzie Gallery, 2026 R St. NW; 202-333-7970; crossmackenzie.com.

Maggie Michael

“It’s not a show,” says G Fine Art proprietor Annie Gawlak of her current (and open-ended) display of a few paintings and drawings and one photograph. If the selection lacks a theme, it does boast two impressive recent canvases by local artist Maggie Michael. “Icon Series: From Limbo (Agamben)” more closely resembles the painter’s other work, with ink, glass and thick globs of house paint (but not spray painting, common in her recent pieces). Less expected is “Event Series: Whatever, Being Such That It Always Matters (Agamben),” a relatively minimalist picture rendered in olive, gray and black, with large areas of white. It’s not quite austere, but it does seem to point Michael in a more contemplative direction.

Maggie Michael

Continuing indefinitely at G Fine Art, 1350 Florida Ave. NE, gfineartdc.com, 202-462-1601.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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