Before he moved away (to Union Dale, Pa.) a few years ago, Robert Stark was known as one of this community's most helpful working artists. He liked to serve his peers; he showed their work and sold it. Stark and his wife, Lucy Clark, often used their studio (above the Ben Bow Bar on Connecticut Avenue NW) for open and amusing local exhibitions. Stark himself sold poorly then, though his art was inexpensive. Now it costs a bundle, but is selling very well.
Stark's sweet and pleasing landscapes are now on view at the Baumgartner Gallery, 2016 R St. NW. Already he has sold more than $40,000 worth of art out of his present show. Even though one swallows hard at the price tags (the biggest pictures on view cost $7,000), a man as generous as Stark no doubt deserves success.
Stark's career seems oddly retrogressive. Photography is booming now, but as the boom began, Stark, who'd worked with Minor White, gave up photography for painting.At first he fooled around, gluing old shirts to his paintings. He tried his hand at hard-edge art and at pure abstraction. The work that he is showing now, in contrast, looks old fashioned. The landscapes he paints out in the woods look like half-French, half-American 19th-century paintings.
Although Stark is a pointillist, his subtle, dotted pictures call to mind the countryside of Northeastern Pennsylvania more than they do Paris. One hears the sound of country streams and feels the seasons changing. He accurately captures the soft greens of early spring, the darker greens of summer and the browns and tans of fall. His works aren't sharply focused. Seen obliquely, they appear to be decorative rectangles of quiet, singing color. They'll be up through December.
The once-tacky, but improving, Washington Project for the Arts, 1227 G St. NW, is cleaning up its act. It's pock-marked peg-board walls at last have been replaced, and the floors repainted. It's new director, Al Nodal (the man who brought to Washington the World's Biggest Cowboy Boots) is perhaps the most adventurous curator in town.
The six environmental sculptures there vary widely in quality, but three are well worth seeing. Leonard Cave is showing a sort of totem forest of drille, axed and bolted sculptures made of rough-hewn wood. Tina Potter's work, made of string, paint and scrim, is a colorful and subtle walk-in hard-edge painting. But it is David Wheeler's harmless hell that steals the present show.
Wheeler calls his piece "Co*Media" (he likes both puns and Dante). His hell is made of whittled pine, and it is densely inhabited -- by figures out of Breughel, by oil men in top hats, by treadmills and bib bombs and dog-eating dogs. Though it stands alone, and nicely, too, Wheeler's sculpture also serves as the set, props and cast of an odd, amusing play he occasionally performs. The WPA show closes Nov. 30.
The Cramer Gallery, 2035 P St. NW, is showing the strange gardens -- and even stranger gaming tables -- that Washington's Nizette Brennan carves of yellow marble, red-brown slate, and other colored stones. Her games have many pieces -- counters, chips, cubes and spheres, slate wedges that move in slate grooves. Playing them is easry, but their rules are far from clear. Her gardens aren't as good, they look too much like small, obedient acts of homage to Noguchi, but her thoughtful, well-wrought show is well worth a visit. It closes Dec. 1
The Henri Gallery, 21st and P Streets NW, is showing Lawson Smith's new sculptures. He begins with common objects -- a set of swings, a jungle gym, a traditional gazebo, a rack for drying towels -- and then makes them uncommon by winding many miles of gleaming, colored silk thread around their stdruts and bars. That gazebo seems to come from the gardens of Nirvana; kids play on such jungle gyms on the Big Rock Candy Mountain. It must have taken Smith some years to make this bright, delightful show, which closes Dec. 6.