Joe White's new paintings, now at Middendorf/Lane, are immaculate mysterious, formal and expensive. They do not look like other paintings of this city or time.
Their materials are traditional; he paints upon sized linen with oils and glazes. White's subjects are not shocking, but the opposite of shocking - urban landscapes, polite commissioned protraits and the mountains of the West.
Yet these pictured have about them something ceaseless and disturbing. They haunt the walls they hang on. If you live among them, you will see that they glow and writhe.
Though he portrays the familiar - people, bridges, buildings, the Mall and the Potomac - there is within these pictures an otherness that startles. Joe White's paintings are as strange to the mind as to the eye.
And the strangest thing about them is that they seem both old and new.
White has somehow managed to reconcile opposites - the abstruse and the trite, the machined and the organic, the observed and the dreamed. When he describes his style as "French academic-Momoyama-jazz-modern," he is only partly joking. "His paintings have within them so many elements, and sources, that they ought to fly apart.
Look, for instance, at his gracious portrait of Dr. Katherine Alley. Her tangled, crawling hair, her flawless brow, her odd Egyptian eye, and the liquid lawn behind her, do not belong in the same show, much less in the same picture. But this is no collage. When White is at his best, his synthesis is seamless. His paintings are not jagged, but harmonious and whole.
What unites them, above all, is their colored, all suffering, pale and pastel light.
"See that your shadows and lights blend like smoke without strokes or borders," commanded Leorfardo, and White - when he paints skin, or sunlight on a wall, or even empty air - obeys that admonition, using as he does so unexpected colors that has somehow harmonized and tuned.
Though White has lived in Washington for half a dozen years, he was born in San Mateo, and something Californian, some highly polished quirkiness, is apparent in his art.
White, now 39, belongs to the first generation to grow up committed to a purely abstract art. He learned from the surrealists, and from the action painters; he used to start his paintings freely, without preliminary drawings, without idea or plan. He was already a fine painter when, in 1973, his art completely changed.
Not many abstract painters could have taken such a leap. One day, without warning, Joe White began to paint landscapes, seascapes, portraits, and abandoned abstract art. "i realized," said White, "that much avant-garde art was hostile to the viewer. I want to draw you to my paintings, not drive you away."
Abstraction is the ghost that haunts Joe White's new paintings. No one could have painted that sleeve, that nose, that foliage, who had not first immersed himself in wholly abstract art.
Washington is rightly sick of awkward, formal portraits that look like face antiques. The people at the State Department who recently rejected one such presentation portrait of Henry Kissinger should, perhaps, consider turning to Joe White. For he can catch a likeness, and his colors are remarkable, and his pictures state their time. He is one of the finest portraitists, and one of the finest painters, working in this city. His show at Middendorf/Lane, 2014 P St. NW., closes April 30.
Howard University's Eighth Annual Faculty Exhibition is, as were its predecessors, coherent, vital, strong. To see it is to wonder why some Washington museum, the Corcoran or the Phillips, does not at long last organize a show of local work that celebrates, as this one does, America and Africa and the state of being black.
There are other things it celebrates - painting, photography, ceramics, scholarship and teaching - and the objects on display do not look alike. But in all this individuality, the viewer feels a oneness. A shared attitude toward art, and toward the communal role it plays, unifies this show.
The Howard exhibition is handsomely installed. perhaps because they teach together, the 19 artists showing complement each other. Their work does not compete. There are three of them, however, whose objects are so powerful that they dominate the memories one carries from this show.
Al Smith is prolific, and his rhythmis, patterned paintings, "A Vibrational Weave" and "Evolution of a Note" are music for the eyes. Ed Love, whose sculptures are of metal, gets better every year. And the ceramics of Winnie Owens are piercing, tough and fine.
Also admirable are the graphics of Winston Kennedy and Doris Colbert, the paintings of Malkia Roberts, the sand-and-acrylic pictures of E. H. Sorrells-Adewale, and the subtle watercolors of Raymond Dobard. One misses Jeff Donaldson and especially James Phillips, who were in last year's show, but then Skunder Boghassian's paintings are bigger, brighter, more intense, than they were before. The exhibit, which is dedicated to the memory of Alma Thomas.Howard's first art graduate, will remain on view in the art department's gallery through April 14.
Italo Scanga, the Philadelphia sculptor, is showing new assemblages at the Henri Gallery, 21st and P Streets NW. Religion is his subject.The found objects he works over - he paints them and he carves them and he turns them upside down - include pictures of the Passion, portraits of the saints and plaster statues of the holy family, that look as if they have been scavenged from some church.
Scanga is no heretic. His pieces, although witty, are less hostile than nostalgic. To a lithograph of St. Stephen being stoned, Scanga has applied orbs to fiery blood. For reasons that remain obscue (or is it a pun on Dali's Crucifixion?) he also has applied small white cubes of plaster to a statue of Christ's Descent from the Cross.
A reaper's scythe, small crosses, and the sort of thorns from which one might make a crown, also are included in his memory-evoking, affection-laden show. It will remain on view through April.
"I consider my work a religious enterprise," writes Baltimore's Joseph Hilton, whose clumsy, charming pictures are at Rebecca Cooper's. Though he sometimes shows us angels, it seems he mostly worships his friends, the act of painting and the history of art.
Hilton, whose exhibition closes today, likes to paint Renaissance colonnades, the three graces and assorted nudes. He works in grisaille. No sooner has he finished with a picture, than he begins to paint another one much like it. His art is repetitious, it does drone on and on, but there is something in it that is half delightful. A number of his pictures were recently included in an exhibit called "Bad Painting." It is easy to see why.