The National Collection of Fine Arts has two new shows of two artists who were powerful influences in the Washington art scene as it began to gain recognition in the 1950s -- Morris Louis and Jacob Kainen. The shows, small and hardly representative of the huge outputs of both artists, do reflect their opposite temperaments and approaches to their art: Louis was reclusive, a slow developer who gradually developed a style that was distinctive and recognized only late in his life; Kainen was outgoing, an organizer and teacher, eternal student and experimenter.
The Louis show -- of 57 drawings, plus two paintings -- is fascinating because Louis abruptly ceased drawing in 1953 and began turning out the fluid, abstract colorist paintings that gained him celebrity. In the chronology of the drawings, it's easy to see the mature artist emerging, gaining a deftness that enabled him to turn out his Veils, Florals, Unfurleds and Stripes of the 1960s.
The 19 Kainen oils reflect the variety of paintings that Kainen turned out (and is still turning out at 70), all vital and grabby, ranging from recognizable cityscapes and action scenes to stark symbols that mimic Kainen's talent for printmaking. Incidentally, but not coincidentally, a show and sale of Kainen monotypes is running at the Lunn Gallery this month.)
The Kainen show runs through January 6; the Louis show through February 3.