At the new Middendorf/Lane Gallery last Tuesday night Joe White sat and stared at his newest paintings.
Like the man who made them, the works were quiet, inviting contemplation. White seemed wholly unconcerned -- though everyone else was yammering about it -- that he was not among the nine realist artists selected for the new Corcoran show opening next week.
"There are more than nine artists in Washington," he said philosophically. "They'll just have to have more shows."
But there are already more shows of realist art in town than anyone can count, with more opening next week. They fall into two categories: those which augment the Corcoran's choices, and those which challenge them by showing large numbers of other realists who, like White, were not chosen. The result is the healthiest panorama of Washington art to be seen in a long time.
White's new paintings, the fruit of 18 months labor, span his concerns, from city scenes bulging with buildings to unspoiled landscapes, all devoid of human presence. When he does do people -- and a portrait of his dealers is one view here -- their surroundings disappear as if the intensity of his vision cannot accomodate both.
"View from 18th St.," the most ambitious work in the show is an almost Estes-like complex of city rooftops, facades and windows, but without Estes' textural razzle-dazzle. Instead, White has here embarked upon an exploration of the endlessly varied shapes and colors he observes, organizing them into a three-dimensional puzzle space, with nontradtional perspective, which leaves the viewer to explore the non-hierarchical surface. The atmosphere is White's hallmark: It hovers between the real and the unreal.
The most alluring painting is "Marin Landscape," a shoreline view of the artist's native California. Reduced to its essential forms, this is a highly personal, moody scene wherein the only real event is a sensuous, satiny wave lapping at the shore. The airless space and light combine with the unreal, dappled landscape, to set the whole picture teetering on the border of fantasy.
"I don't even know where I am in this painting," admits the artist. There is, however, an overwhelming tranquilty within it, and a long slow visit may well leave viewers with the feeling that they've just spent a month in the country. The show continues at Middenorf/Lane's new location, 2009 Columbia Rd. NW, through Feb. 2.
This quite, contemplative mood also tturns up in the paintings of John Winslow, another good realist not included in the Corcoran roundup, but now showing new work at Jane Haslem Gallery, 2121 P St. NW.
When compared with Joe White, Winslow's work is more "traditional," in the sense that he does not seek to distill his images to other-worldly essence, but sustains an interest in the way things really look. Detail remains and proliferates, as he recounts the fascinating paraphernalia of his studio -- his chief subject. In a fine portrait of his mother, artist Marcella Comes, seated in the antique-filled family summer house in New Hampshire, the enveloping nostalgia makes you want to pull up a chair and spend the afternoon. winslow's space begs to be entered; White's must be contemplated from afar.
"I try to get as many kinds of paintings into each work as I can -- still life, landscape, figure -- and I'm happiest when I can include all three," says Winslow, who often does just that. Like White, Winslow alters his perspective to keep the surface compressed, lively and satisfying as abstract design. "The challenge is to incorporate abstraction into realist art," he says. "After all, we can't just go back to the 19th century." It is this fine distinction -- among others -- which separates the "new realism" from just plain old-fashioned representational art.
But Winslow keeps things lively in a variety of ways, often using several painting techniques simultaneously. For example, in "In the Studio -- July," he shows his own blurred image walking past a highly impressionistic painting, into which his figure nearly dissolves. His paint-smudged aprons are often used as an excuse for virtuoso passages of pure abstract expressionist brushwork.
"In the Studio -- April," one of the more complex and interesting paintings in this show, also poses a visual conundrum, a device Winslow has used before: What appears to be a view out the Window turns out to be a landscape painting within the painting.
Since Winslow's striking debut at Haslem last year, he has made a prodigious number of paintings and preparatory watercolors while on sabbatical leave from Catholic University. In several, however, particularly those in a horizontal format, he seems to be painting almost too fast. None of these highly simplified, dramatically lit, photographically cropped paintings sustain either the visual or intellectual excitement of his last show. This show continues through January.
There will be another counter-Corcoran show in a Chinese Laundry next week, but one has already opened at Foundry Gallery, 2121 P St. NW. Entitled "25 Washington Artists: Realism and Representation," it was organized by guest curator David Tannous, who explains that it is not so much a "protest," as "a broad-range survey of some of the 200 Washington realists he believes ought to be seen."
The show does point out the fact that there are, indeed, a lot of good representational artists around, and have been for a long time. The hugely talented Ben Summerford and Robert D'Arista are here, though in undistinguished examples, along with Frank Wright who surely is the peer of many of those selected for the Corcoran show. Jack Boul, Constance Costigan, Peter De Anna, Sherry Kasten and Susan Middleman make a strong showing, while Danni Dawson, John Grazier and Val Lewton have done better. The show continues through Feb. 9, and is a commendable effort -- if not an overwhelming visual experience.
Stripe painter Gene Davis, in a surprise move, has opened a new show of old paintings at Protetch-mcIntosh, 2151 P St. NW. There isn't a stripe insight among these energetic slatherings of brightly colored abstract expressionist brushstroking. They serve, Davis Explains, to sum up his art just before he switched to stripes in the late '50s. If they weren't by Gene Davis, my guess is nobody would give them a second look.
But why dredge up these old chestnuts now, when Davis is still making and selling stripes like hotcakes? The fact is, the Corcoran -- and subsequently a New York dealer -- showed several huge, early dripping squares a few years ago, which brought a positive response from New York critics who seemed both pleased and surprised to discover that Davis knew how to handle a brush even before he took up making stripes with masking tape. With that critical seal of approval thus secured, Davis and/or his dealers have obviously decided to scour the attic -- and possibly the basement -- for more.
The only truly pleasing works on view are several small drawings in the upstairs stairwell. They also date from the '50s, but are more tender, more considered. Unfortunately, Davis has wasted considerable time recently transferring the ideas embodied in these and more recent drawings into small paintings on canvas -- whimsical, childlike and wholly lacking in the integrity of the earlier works in the hall. Davis, always au courant, now seems to be groping toward the new look of the minimal imagist. Even his clustered, Bloomingdale-like installation can't save these little items. The show closes Feb. 3.