Mark Power's show of photographs at the Corcoran Gallery of Art is called "Beauty and the Beast." The exhibition is no contest. Beauty always wins.
Mark Power is a fabulist, a dreamweaver. Even when he shows us sights that ought to shock -- a man's face grinning diamonds, a raccoon's severed paw -- his art seems washed by sweetness, by elf-music and moonlight. He blesses what he sees.
Two shows of his work are now on view in Washington. One is at the Corcoran; the other, "Friends and Family," is at Kathleen Ewing's, 3020 K St. NW. Visits paid to both of them confirm an old suspicion: Power is among the most original and sensitive artists in this town.
He is not one of those I-am-a-camera photographers who dare us to confront all the pores and wrinkles of the indubitably real. His photographs cast spells. These are the studies of a formalist geometer locked in to rows of bricks and 90-degree angles. Power takes great risks.
He takes risks with the hokey, and with what "straight" photographers might term the dishonest. When he photographs a rock sitting on a fencepost, one suspects he put it there; he sometimes tones his prints; his daughters may be posing. Such manipulations ought to seem offensive, but Power gets away with them. His art transcends its tricks.
Other "romantic" photographers, particularly Clarence John Laughlin, make pictures that embarrass. They place a woman in a graveyard, put a veil on her head, and say, "Boo! A ghost!" All too often Laughlin's art sinks in heavy syrup. Power's instead soars.
A late verse by the poet Yeats may partially explain the spell of Power's art. Yeats, already old, was sitting in a London shop, when "My body of a sudden blazed/and 20 minutes more or less/It seemed, so great my happiness/that I was blessed and could bless." Power has experienced reveries as piercing. One sees in his photographs that power is in love. His Corcoran exhibit closes Dec. 9; his photographs at Ewing's will be there through Nov. 7.
Middendorf/Lane, 2014 P St. NW., is showing Tom Dineen, a local virtuoso. Dineen, with charcoal, draws as well as anyone around. The figures in his pictures move and bend and writhe. Yet despite his awesome skill, and his awesome energy, the viewer does not wholly trust the passion in his pictures.
They are perhaps too practiced. Dineen is one of those rare artists who are so good at what they do that their pictures seem imperiled by too much sophistication. He seems to sense the danger. There is a kind of battle apparent in his pictures. He is fighting off the sleek.
His first works here are landscapes. For a while Dineen used scribbling and abstraction to overcome the sweetness of the pastoral. Of late he has been following the lead of Francis Bacon, drawing tortured figures, things that ought to scare, as if such subjects were an antidote to the almost flawless smoothness of his skill.
His exhibition closes with a trio of oil paintings whose crudeness, one suspects, is in part intentional. He has turned again to color; he has changed his medium, from charcoal to oils; though his new work is less beautiful that that of a few years ago, he seems on the right track. Making art for Tom Dineen is, perhaps, so easy that he has rightly chosen to turn against the pretty, to struggle for the toughness that is the one ingredient missing from his art. Watch him. Good as he is now, he is going to get better. His show closes Nov. 3.
Richard Crozier, whose paintings are on view at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW, teaches at the University of Virginia and paints the landscape thereabouts. He sets his easel up outside and portrays what he sees. But even those who share his deep affection for the trees and skies of the Blue Ridge will find his exhibition a most uneven show.
When he hits -- as he does in such works as "Late Snow," "Mountain to the West" or "Summer Store" -- he is an admirable painter. When he misses, as he does more often, he fails to convince us of the places that he loves, he merely puts before us muddy, brushed-on paint. His show should have been edited. It closes Oct. 13.