There is no sham or slickness in Fairfield Porter's art.His drawing sometimes stumbles, but he worked so sincerely that even when he's awkward, his clumsiness endears.
While the art world in New York commended the anguished and the polished, and the never-seen-before, Porter kept on painting the common things about him -- the glasses on his table, buses on Manhattan's streets, the landscape and the seascapes 'round his country house in Maine, his family, his friends.
Porter was not retrograde. A Graduate of Harvard, he taught at Yale, Amherst and the Maryland Institute; he often wrote of abstract art with sympathy and insight. Though Porter, like Jackson Pollock, had been a student of Thomas Hart Benton, his art was not "advanced."
In retrospect that marks him as something of a hero. He was one of those New Yorkers -- Raphael Soyer is another, Alice Neel is a third -- who never swerved to fashion. He painted what he knew.
The little Porter show now on view at Mickelson's gallery is appropriately modest. Nothing on display is searing or grandiloquent. His images are casual -- a women at a table; a patient spotted dog waiting at the screen door; a pear tree in full flower; a smoggy New York sky -- but one leaves his show remembering the way he painted light.
His pictures seem to sparkle. Much New York art is shadowed, but Porter loved the daylight. His colors never seem plastic or electric; nor are they the colors one sees in real life. His subjects are pure prose, his poetry is found in the way his colors sing.
They are both sun-bright and quiet. He liked soft greens and beige and balanced shades of gray, but though his hues are muted, his oils and his lithographs are so full of light one feels one ought to squint.
Among the works at Mickelson's are two versions of a 1974 lithograph, both showing Sixth Avenue. One shows the early afternoon, the sky dull and overcast; the second print is much the same: The traffic has not moved, but the time seems different. Enough rose has been added to the soft gray of the sky that the picture that showed afternoon now suggests the dusk. Porter's art is mild, less ambitious, say, than Hopper's as homey as Vuillard's. He was not a master, but one trusts in his integrity. His show closes Jan. 28.
The Middendorf/Lane Gallery has moved away from P Street to a rather splendid house with porches, columns, sunlight and a garden. It is just north of the Hilton at 2009 Columbia Rd. NW. The galler's space has more than doubled. A dozen sliding picture racks built into the second floor provide 240 linear feet of wall space for inventory display. For its opening exhibition, the gallery is offering new paintings and pastels by Washington's Leon Berkowitz. His pictures have never looked better.
A picture by that Painter is recognizable at once. Berkowitz still fills his field paintings with light-filled fogs of color that play warm hues against cool. He has slown so often here, and has worked so long perfecting his technique, that he is regarded often as a single image artist. In this show, however, one sees his image change.
The light-filled fogs remain, but gathering within them now are two or three or even six insubstantial orbs, points of special energy that glow within the fog. Aquinas defined God as an infinite spere whose center is everywhere, whose circumference nowhere. The foci in a Berkowitz are not that paradoxical, but it is impossible to tell where they begin or end. These paintings thrive in daylight. Watch them for a while and they start to loom and pulse. They are fine paintings. Accompanied by a group of pointillist pastels, they will remain on view through Jan. 5.
The moving of one gallery does not indicate a trend, but the Adams Morgan neighborhood, long inhabited by painters, is now becoming, too, a place for seeing art.
In addition to the Middendorf/Lane at one end of Columbia Road, there are five other commercial galleries nestled among the restaurants and antique shops on 18th Street NW, below the intersection of Columbia Road. The Felluss Gallery, 1800 Belmont Rd. NW., is showing works by artists familiar and less known -- Sam Gilliam, Saul Steinberg, Rudolph Schwartzkogler (the Austrian, deceased, who set standards for the yeccy, by slashing at his body and filling his photo-documents with pain, bandages and blood).
The sun Gallery, 2324 18th St. NW, offers African carvings, bowls and baskets, prints by James Wells and Ernie Barnes, and gold jewelry made on the premises by Jamal Mims. The Amethyst Gallery, 2316 18th St. NW. now shows Jamaican paintings. The Milestone, across the street at 2325 18th NW, is often open in the evening.It shows local art. Madam's Organ, the cooperative at 2318 18th St. NW, has been there 10 years, but now seems on its last legs. Its building is on the market. Its 10-year lease runs out on Jan. 1.
The Govinda Gallery, 1227 34th St. NW, is showing new and old icons made, or at least owned, by Roman Bukoinsky, who restores antique ones at Dumbarton Oaks. Among the works on view is a matchbox-sized 18th-century Romanian Saint Nicholas whose painted face is seen through a little head-shaped hole poked through silver-plated copper. Two other icons here, on Russian and one Greek, both showing the Mother of God, are also venerable images. Bukowinsky is, no doubt, immersed in old traditions, but the icons that he paints with their panels of gold leaf and their rather gleaming colors look to harsh and tinny beside the older works on view. The show closes Christmas Eve.