Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the artist who painted “We Are a Couple That Does Not Touch.” The painting is by Sarah Robbins, not Sharon Shapiro.
In photography’s early days, one popular genre was the “spirit photograph,” which seemed to show ghosts in the same frame as live subjects. These images were, as anyone now can instantly recognize, simply double exposures. But the debunking of spirit photography didn’t end the use (or abuse) of the medium to make allegedly supernatural pictures. One contemporary product is the AuraCam 6000, which purports to show people’s character-
Photographed with the AuraCam, a modified Polaroid camera, people have glowing halos whose supposed significance could be interpreted by a crayon-savvy 4-year-old. (Is your aura yellow? Then you’re “sunny.”) If the radiant hues are of dubious psychological import, they are quite beautiful. Or at least they are in the large-format portraits of Carlo Van de Roer, whose “The Portrait Machine Project” is on display at Randall Scott Projects. The New Zealand-bred Brooklynite calls his pictures “an excessive example of a familiar idea — that a camera can provide an insight into the unseen.”
The artist photographs friends and colleagues with the device, which produces auras via “magnetic feedback” from the subjects’ hands on sensors. The pulses of color can neatly frame a head-and-torso shot, as in the photographer’s purple-swathed study of filmmaker Miranda July, or nearly obliterate it. Some of Van de Roer’s models are nude, some are clothed, and some could be either; their forms are reduced to vividly hued blobs.
Any mystical significance aside, the pictures follow the familiar aesthetic strategy of leaving some artistic decisions to chance. Van de Roer can photograph the same person as often as he likes — or as long as the subject’s patience abides — but can never get the same picture twice.
Yet digital technology gives the artist exceptional control over the next step. The AuraCam produces standard 4-by-5-inch Polaroid prints. Van de Roer enlarges these up to 10 times, and the results are crisp and bright. The sumptuous color fields that result may not be magical, but they are marvelous.
On view through Aug. 10 at Randall Scott Projects, 1326 H St. NE, 2nd Fl.; 202-417-4872; www.randallscottprojects.com
Fifty years ago, near the peak of abstract expressionism and its offshoots, a group show titled “Strictly Painting” would have featured artists who battled with pigment or attempted to vanish into the picture plane entirely. These days, it’s hard to be strict in defining the medium. “Strictly Painting 9,” the latest in a series of biennial exhibitions at McLean Project for the Arts, includes both realism and abstractionism, but mostly work that splits the difference. The selection, curated by Heiner Contemporary owner Margaret Heiner, also allows drawing, collage and sculpture.
Adding the third dimension can be as simple as painting on a New York transit MetroCard, a pillowcase or a pair of jeans. Paying tribute both to earlier painters and architectural forms, Marie Ringwald’s “Thinking About Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell” overlaps small pieces of painted wood to evoke mid-20th-century abstraction. Eric Garner constructs free-standing starbursts of painted wood, mostly black yet with some bright hues that evoke 1960s color-field painting as surely as David Goslin’s striped entry, “#144.” J.T. Kirkland also uses bands of color, but to frame two pieces of irregular, otherwise unpainted plywood.
There are a few works of unabashed realism: Cory Oberndorfer looks to Pop for two spray-painted pictures of melting popsicles, and Sarah Robbins’s “We Are a Couple That Does Not Touch” shows a motel room of Hopper-like loneliness. More surrealistically, Jessica Van Brakle’s “Futuristic Glimpse” merges painting and drawing in a vision that melds trees and metal scaffolding. More typical are paintings that employ representational elements or classical technique in an abstract context. Pat Goslee’s “Lift” and “Spur” mix precision and painterliness, soft shapes and hard edges in way that — if not entirely typical of “Strictly Painting 9” — seems to exemplify the show’s eclectic outlook.
On view through Aug. 3 at Mclean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean; 703-790-1953; www.mpaart.org
In 2006, Jefferson Pinder unveiled “Juke” at G Fine Art. The video piece showed people — friends, cohorts, Pinder himself — lip-syncing to pop songs. Now “Revival” returns to the same premise, at the same (albeit relocated) gallery. The artist has altered some aspects of the setup, notably by replacing white backdrops with nighttime darkness. But the conceptual color scheme hasn’t changed: The pantomime singers are black, the music is “white.”
A Prince George’s native and former University of Maryland professor who recently took a new job in Chicago, Pinder has described himself as “a product of the old MTV generation.” The nine pieces in “Revival” are indeed music videos, heavily dependent for their appeal on the tunes, which range from classic rock (Beatles, Stones, Queen) to more recent styles. “Revival” wouldn’t have the same effect if the songs were unknown.
The videos speak to the cultural divide between black and white in American society, which leads to misunderstandings that are often trivial yet can escalate to fatal. But, as Pinder notes, “I offer little direction.” Does his recasting of Talking Heads’ “Born Under Punches” protest the band’s appropriation of Afropop or celebrate it? Did the artist include the Smiths’ bouncy “Girlfriend in a Coma” because of its lack of funk or for the reggae-derived rhythm that propels it? A lot depends on what the viewer is used to seeing — and hearing.
On view through Aug. 3 at G Fine Art, 1350 Florida Ave. NE, www.gfineartdc.com, 202-462-1601
With colors that are even more intense than in nature, Jennifer Brewer Stone’s paintings at first glance seem like supercharged depictions of tropical foliage. The potent reds, robust purples and lush greens, set off by flawless blue skies, appear just slightly exaggerated. But the oil paintings in “Fantasy of the Real,” at the Art League Gallery, are realistic only in their details. Stone takes parts of plants and animals (most often butterflies) and melds them into fecund dreamscapes. The folds, curves and shadows show the meticulousness of a nature illustrator, and the layered compositions offer a sense of real-world depth. The local artist’s universe, however illusory, nearly envelops the viewer.
On view through Aug. 5 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria, 703-683-1780, www.theartleague.org
Mark Jenkins is a freelance writer.