Washington's Carroll Sockwell has become a very good abstract painter. He is the opposite of a revolutionary. An allegiance to tradition underlies his new works now at Fraser's Stable, Rear 1910 S St. NW. He calls them, with good reason, "classical compositions." Abstract art, by now, is old enough to shelter abstractionists like Carroll Sockwell who are, in part, eclectics, conservers and historians. Sockwell in his pictures summons pictures from the past.
Precedents provided by men as far apart as Cy Twombley and Malevich are conjured by the charcoal lines, both ruler-straight and gestural, that Sockwell tends to draw on the surface of his pictures. Behind those foreground lines, a gray and foggy field seems to pulsate. Sockwell is, at once, a kind of abstract expressionist, improvising freely, and a latterday constructivist fond of lines, right angles, squares. He is a field painter, too.
He used to be a minimalist. In 1968, when Sockwell was selected for a Corcoran show called "Structure," he was grouping narrow canvases painted just one color. They looked sullen, machined, blank. Later he grew jazzier.Abandoning old rigors, he began to draw so feely that his art moved toward the formless. It is back in balance now.
In his large new pictures Sockwell nicely blends the subtle with the sharp, the strick with the chaotic. Sockwell has increased his sensitivity, his poise. He has been a painter attracted by bright color, and he still prefers the monochrome, the somber, but he is willing now to set sunny reds and organes glinting in his pictures. His soft and cloudy grays seem draw from many different hues. He works his gessoed surfaces with acrylic paint and charcoal, pencil and pastel.
Sometimes he will nail painted, shadow-casting rectangles of plywood to the surfaces of his paintings. Their references are mixed, so are their materials, but these pictures are not messy. Both physically and spiritually these are classical collages. It is the best work he has done. The Sockwell exhibition closes
Galleries that focus on the African tradition often do us a disservice when they fasten onto pedestals, or freeze within glass cases, objects that were made to be carried, used or worn. No such lifelessness diminishes the shows put on daily by sculptor Margo Wells. Her studio is the storefront window of the Miya Gallery 720 11th St. NW. She works with human hair.
She is not a barber. She neither cuts nor treats hair. While its owner sits there, she works it into patterns, dredknots, cornrows, braids. She decorates her clients, men as well as woman, with gold thread, bells and beads. It might take her all day to do a single hairdo that might the* n be worn eight weeks. She combines in her designs fashions new and very old. Those who watch her working, designing, knotting, beading, will see traditions brought alive.
Lou Jones and Phil Jones, mother and son, are sharing an exhibition at the Foundry Gallery, 2121 P St. NW. She makes shoe-box sixed "Enclosures," in which interior vistas have been opened, or distorted, by flat or curving mirrors. He makes meticulous pencil drawings of male and female nudes.
Though Phil Jones draws superbly, his figures seem half-lifeless, without personalities. The look more like statues made of flesh than they do like people. His mother's pieces, too, have about them something distant, theoretical and cool. The viewer who peers through the eyepieces she's provided is startled to discover within her mirrored boxes the reflection of his eye. That eye, alive and moving, contradicts the chill that rises from this otherwise pleasing show. The photographs of Ruth Hampton, competent but undistinguished, are also at the Foundry. The exhibition closes April 15.
James Haslem, 2121 P St. NW, is showing Ralph Woehrman's larger-than-life drawings of birds and moths. Also in his show is a big, and rather twinkly, portrait of Gene Baro. Woehrman, who draws admirably, seems to have preference for the slightly creepy. Sometimes in the past Woehrman included lizards in his portraits. Here the oddness shows in his scale and his colors, rather than his imagery. His colors have a strange, dissolving, liquid iridescence. His exhibition closes April 15. The Haslem, by the way, is planning a summer show called "The Washington Printmakers." Everyone is invited to enter. Haslem will select the prints to be displayed.
Blaine Larson, whose nonclassical canvases are now at Diane Brown's, 2028 P St. NW, is another local artist who has been re-examining the half-antique conventions of postwar action painting. He tweaks and teases them, but does not pay them homage. Though he scribbles with his paint, splishing and dripping it, his paintings have within them no mood of somber anguish. Instead they display lyricism confounded by the whacky. His colors are electric, glaring, unexpected. I like his paintings. Larson used to make odd organic images that somehow brought to mind caterpillars, tendrils, totems. One can almost feel such images struggling to the surface of his newest paintings. Should they re-emerge, they will bring another weirdness to an art already weird. His exhibition closes April 6.
Linda Raden's drawings at the Studio Gallery, 802 F St. NW, look at first abstract. But they are not. They are maps. That swelling, bending shape is the path of the Potomac. That right angle is a corner turned by the District Line.
Raden selects details from assorted maps of Washington. She picked her city well. Her circles, squares and grids she owes to Maj. L'Enfant. For her meandering, organic shapes Raden has to thank the landscape and the river. Her varied pencil, drawings are pleasing and witty. They will be on view there, as will the wood-and-fabric structures of Giorgio Furioso, through April 15.