Smooth, tanned skin.

Metallic gold hair, wiry at the ends.

Sinewy lines of a Grecian profile.

All springing out of the backdrop of the rugged stone wall, grainy and green and brown. The warmth, the full fleshiness of the elegant bathingsuited figure against that flat, dead wall.

Wham!

Hardly a study of the fine art of nuance, or subtle contrast. And yet it is a stunning image, contrived but beautiful, in a powerful exhibition of color photography by Frank DiPerna now at the Diane Brown Gallery, 2028 P St. NW.

Through this image and the 20 others in the exhibition, DiPerna approaches concerns of photography that have plagued masters of the medium.

He probes, for example, the effects of compression of space. The profile of the woman becomes an outline, an etching against the wall. It struggles to retain its own life, but the wall pulls it back, makes the image taut. And the tension is part of what makes the photo so compelling.

DiPerna consistently uses this theme of the struggle between different textures, each assertive, each trying to dominate. The sky meets a wall in another image, and the wall is punctured by a window, a mirrow of the sky, into the frame, the boundaries of the surrounding flatness.

He also raises the question of reconciling the real with the illusory, a natural subject for the photographer.

Many of the photographs, capture the natural juxtaposition of real objects -- handlebars on bicycles; automobile hoods -- with images painted on walls. But DiPerna has only pointed out that tension, not created it. And yet in doing that he opens up the viewer's eyes to his unique visions in a beautiful and stimulating way. The exhibition is on view through March 1.

Really, William Christenberry, do you think anybody could delight in a miniature "River House"? With its little "Fresh Catfish" sign? Its little "Worms and Crickets" for sale notice? Its eensey bitsy set of ladder steps marching up from the ground to the teeny doorway?

Well, you're right.

And not only that, but the rest of your show at the Sander Gallery, 2600 Connecticut Ave. NW is pretty terrific, too.

Sculpture, pastel drawings, photographs by Christenberry explore formal geometry with a sense of wry humor. "Rush Box With Gourd" is that literally -- a rusted metal box with a gourd sitting on top of it. While the litcralness is amusing, it is only a small part of the point. The formal relationship of the two objects is considerably more important.

Spheres, rods, cones enter all the media in which Christenberry works like ghosts of family members haunting the old homestead. They are familiar, but shift and play just out of reach. Throughout the exhibition, the craftsmanship is uniformly superb. The exhibition is on view through March 8.

The icons come before the iconoclasm, no doubt about it.

But sometimes the latter is not very far behind.

Try the exhibition of "Reliquaries and Icons" at Fondo del Sol, 2112 R St. NW, where a gathering of contemporary Hispanic artists has taken the subject of the icon and done it about as far as it can go and still fall short of invading heaven itself.

The imagery is religious and in some of the pieces quite serious. But in others the religious object is the subject of, well, of Larry Fuente's "Duck," for example. In which a resin form of a duck wears bronze baby shoes and is covered with parallel rows of sequins and beads ending in a hatpin tail. It's quite dazzling and funny, but hardly worthy of worship.

The exhibition is on view through Feb. 29.

It's a quaint, charming world that fills the prints and paintings of Jack Boul, wispy Parisian types wafting through streets and alleys, shadowy folks that one never quite looks at head on. It's a world brought to the American University Gallery, Nebraska at Massachusetts avenues.

But the charm only takes the work so far, and then there isn't much else left. The prints seem to have a greater spontaneity to them than do the paintings, but the fragile figures who inhabit these traditional genre scenes have little life in the imagination when you're through looking directly at the work. The exhibition is on view through Feb. 23.

Two artists exhibiting in the same gallery probably couldn't be any further apart than Ellen MacDonald and Steve Ludium are at the Washingtion Project for the Arts galler, 1227 G St. NW.

Rigid white lines against an unrelenting black background form constructions in space in Ludlum's massive paintings. Six-digit nembers float in space, their progression across the canvas well ordered and precise. No illusion of depth exits on the canvases. The geometrics are all.

MacDonald's sculptures, exhibited upstairs, are exercises in serious funk. Hugh flowers in brilliant colors -- plaster on wire forms -- blossom all around. Lace and ribbon encircle one piece. A lattice-work "snow fence" makes an unexplained experience. Everywhere there is energy. Although a good deal of it is unrestrained and unchanneled, tremendous potential is certainly there.

The exhibition is on view through Feb. 29.