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Jerzy Janiszewski’s graphic design was part of protests in Poland

By Mark Jenkins,

When Jerzy Janiszewski departed Poland in 1982, he left some posters of his most famous design with a friend. The pal didn’t put them in the attic, and he didn’t hang any in his home; instead, he buried them. Janiszewski’s creation, one of the most famous and powerful graphic-art images of the late 20th century, was the logo for Solidarity, the Gdansk shipyard workers movement that defied Poland’s communist government. The movement and its emblem had been banned, and Janiszewski had little choice but to flee.

One of those posters, dug up in 1989, is among three versions of the Solidarity logo on display at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, a new Logan Circle gallery. Also included is the first imprint of the design, approved for use by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who signed it — that one’s not for sale — as well as a hand-painted version done for a BBC program in 1999. The logo, Krause notes, wasn’t just a design job; inspired by graffiti, Janiszewski chose both the look and the word “Solidarnosc,” thus naming the movement.

Janiszewski, who lives in Spain, is a successful graphic designer. One of his latest logos, also on display here, was commissioned by Poland to mark its six-month 2011 tenure as president of the Council of the European Union. But most of this show’s art was done privately and has rarely been exhibited. It’s mixed-media work on (and mostly of) paper and cardboard, contrasting freehand lines and bursts of paint with mass-produced, machine-printed items. The most dramatic of the collages are “Black A” and “Black B,” two handsome abstractions in which bits of text and color dot heavily worked black fields.

The more minimalist pieces arrange simple rectangles, such as Barcelona Metro tickets or strips from inside the tops of Marlboro packages, into larger compositions. They suggest a pack-rat Sol LeWitt and, as Krause notes, “speak to exile.” They also reveal an aesthetic honed in a land of scarcity, where every scrap was a potential artistic medium. These assemblages share the spirit of simplicity and directness that informed Janiszewski’s best-known design.

Krause, a former foreign correspondent for this paper and several TV news operations, became interested in suppressed artwork while reporting from authoritarian countries in the 1970s and ’80s. His gallery will feature the art of “protest, propaganda and political change,” which he says is too often undervalued by art-world purists. The gallery will usually show its wares only by appointment, but it will be open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

‘From Forge to Form’

To make both functional and abstract objects, Virginia artists Nol Putnam and Frederic Crist draw on millenniums of metalworking tradition. They render plantlike forms in iron, steel and brass, recalling everything from prehistoric Celtic torques to the Paris Metro’s art nouveau railings and canopies. The pieces in “From Forge to Form: Modern Ironwork” — sometimes shown only in models, drawings or photographs — include gates and benches; a realistic apple and loosely rendered rooster, both forged in iron; and 3-D squiggles made of steel and suspended in midair to produce a complex dance of shadows. The work is impressive in range as well as craft.

Crist expands the definition of “ironwork” to include liquid-looking abstractions on paper, in which the spaces left by flowing black acrylic paint are filled with gold leaf. Putnam offers both a watercolor and a photo of his lovely “Rousseau Gate,” a series of overlapping metal leaf forms in various hues. That one’s on private property, but he’s also done a lot of work for the Washington National Cathedral, which (earthquake damage aside) is open to the public. Diverse and detailed, the nearly 50 Crist and Putnam works on exhibit at the Mansion at Strathmore could easily occupy several hours. But the show could be just the first stop on a tour of Putnam’s and Crist’s artfully functional sculpture.

Nam Le

Maryland artist Nam Le also twists metal, as well as wood, to express what his Hillyer Arts Space show dubs “Cycles of Life.” Whether sitting on plinths, standing on the floor or hanging from the ceiling, these spiraling constructions are impeccable and implacable. The gallery’s notes state that the work reflects “the fragility of life,” and the teetering “Torqued” can be read as unstable (although it isn’t, really). The sculpture is sometimes humanized by playful touches: “Triple Helix” is a spiral of tongue depressors, and “Same, Same but Different” consists of a pair of treelike shapes, equally weathered but made of different materials: iron and wood. Yet such pieces as “Fibonacci Wannabe I,” a series of basketlike steel coils nestled together, convey the permanence of mathematical forms. Rather than suggest the organic and the ephemeral, this work appears pretty darn eternal.

Dr. Seuss

Perhaps the kids shouldn’t come along for a visit to “Dr. Seuss’s Secrets of the Deep,” on display at the P&C Art galleries in Georgetown and Alexandria. Illustrations from the author-illustrator’s children’s books provide many of the images in these posthumously made prints, produced in limited but not exactly exclusive editions of up to 2,500. Seuss’s “secret” pictures include pinup-style drawings of bikini- or negligee-clad chicks (that is, creatures with human-female bodies but avian features). There’s also a large rendering of a busty nude perched on the shoulders of one of Seuss’s trademark bipedal cats. Yet many of the “adult” prints are no more carnal than the work for which the artist is known, and they differ from his kids’ book illustrations mostly by being more detailed and (sometimes) using color more loosely. Grown-up Seussians will surely be interested, but there’s nothing here to subvert the impression that the doctor did his best work depicting Sneetches, Grinches and cats topped with hats rather than Rubenesque women.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

Jerzy Janiszewski

on view through Jan. 29
at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, 1300 13th St. NW, 202-638-3612, www.charleskrausereporting.com .

Nol Putnam and Frederic Crist — From Forge to Form: Modern Ironwork

on view through Dec. 30
at the Mansion at Strathmore,
10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, 301-581-5109, www.strathmore.org/fineartexhibitions/exhibitions.asp .

Nam Le: Cycles of Life

on view through Dec. 23
at Hillyer Arts Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW, 202-338-0680, www.artsandartists.org/hillyer.html .

Dr. Seuss’s Secrets
of the Deep

on view through Dec. 24
at P&C Art Gallery,
3108 M St. NW, 202-965-3833, and 212 King St., Alexandria, 703-549-2525, www.pcart.com/seuss/index.html .

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