Sam Gilliam has done it again.
In his new show at Middendorf/-Lane, 2009 Columbia Rd. NW, this top Washington painter is showing large, brilliantly colored shaped canvases as sleek and sophisticated as any he has made.
They also represent the mature phase of experiments undertaken early in the '70s, when Gilliam began seeking a new direction and complexity in his stained color-paintings. Pouring layer upon layer of acrylic paint -- newly thick with gel -- Gilliam started working over his already highly textured surfaces with a rug-rake. The results were strong, large rectangular canvases which revealed complex layers of underlying color through predominantly white -- and later, predominantly black -- surfaces. They were exhibited in recent shows at Fendrick and Middendorf/Lane.
To add further complexity, Gilliam has also begun introducing areas of self-collage, made by cutting one painting into geometrical shapes and then incorporating them into the surfaces of other paintings. In the current show the cutting has become so complex that the works are less like paintings-with-collage than patchwork quilts made from cut-up paintings. Some of these nine-sided works actually take their titles from old patchwork patterns, such as "Robbin' Peter."
There is so much variety in the colorplay within each work that the viewer is apt to overlook the fact that each is exactly the same irregular shape. "Purpled," for example, looks very different from "Bluesette" or the predominantly yellow "Sawtooth." It is as if big areas of bright, solid colar had reasserted themselves through the layers of paint, and the energy never stops flowing.
The show continues through Nov. 8.
Henrietta Ehrsam (otherwise known as Henri) is still holding the fort on the second floor of her gallery at 1500 21st St. NW. Though the first floor has been taken over by her landlords, Henri's current show of sculpture by Robert Bourdon is worth the trudge up one flight of stairs.
Bourdon's wall-mounted piece called "Another C Product" appears to be a collage made from a paper bag and part of a rubber tire. Or is it? As it turns out, this is no collage at all, but rather a relief carved from a single piece of mahogany. The surfaces have then been painted so as to further fool the eye.
Trompe l'oeil, of course, is the name of Bourdon's game, and he plays it well, whether in carved releifs or in three-dimensional sculpture. "The Last Brunch" appears to be nothing more than a tacky kitchen table and patched leatherette chair, until close inspection reveals that this, too, is entirely made of carved and painted wood -- including the electrical tape used to repair the seat. Amazing, if not terribly profound. A Queen Anne-type chair with Texas-style tooled leather seat and cowboy hat should give antiques buffs a jolt and a chuckle. The show closes Nov. 8.
Jack Rasmussen Gallery, 313 G St. NW, is featuring paintings by Laurie Kaplowitz, a young Washingtonian who paints provocative metaphorical works -- and also plays all the major roles in them. Her characteristic format depicts two young women engaged in some quiet, contemplative activity, such as looking out the window, reading or making art. But in every case, the figures bear the artist's own visage, reduced to a mask-like simplicity.
Typically, "The Voyage" -- the best work in the show -- features two female figures, one looking through binoculars at the visibile world outside while the other contemplates a book and a globe, a metaphorical study of "reality" in its various forms.
"Voyage" is superior because the faces are shown in profile. In other works here, the frontal faces have a tendency to attract too much attention because they have been overworked -- no doubt in the effort make them blend in. This is a major problem for Kaplowitz, and must be resolved before her othewise enticing scenarios can be fully realized.
In the newly expanded upstairs space, Rasmussen is showing work by artist-critic Douglas Davis, here represented by drawings and collages documenting various undertakings in video and film.Notable as a stand-still image is "Keeping Time," which successfully recalls a video piece of the same name, while "Sound Boxes" wittily spews forth bits from the soundtrack of Davis' newest film, "Post Modern Times."
Also upstairs are several drawings featuring guns, targets and not-so-sharp-shooting medals by visual punster Lee Haner. But what these works -- all under the title "Some Guns" -- are really about is guns going off in the wrong direction, and the disturbing results.