Light spills out of Neil Jenney's paintings. In fact, the mantled frames are coated with shades of sky. The works are at odds: Forest and lumber juxtaposed, a fence breaking up the greenery in "Here and There." Patriotic myths are intact, especially in "Them And Us," as a USAF fighter zooms above the burning Red-Starred enemy. Giant wry captions elicit mixed responses, while the frames sometimes define the picture, as in "Window No. 2." The provocative works in "Neil Jenney: Painting and Sculpture 1967-1980," which opens at the Corcoran Saturday, are less angry than witty. Most conflicted is "Meltdown Morning," a narrow horizontal painting of a beautiful section of tree bark and leaves with an equally lovely mushroom cloud in early formation in the distance: pretty and frightening in equal doses. The allegory of "Girl and Vase" -- crying over spilled dreams? -- is extended by the unsettling "Girl and Doll," in which the girl wails over a broken doll with its head off. Jenney painted the two in "a matter of two or three days" in the '60s, he says. The Corcoran skylights will be covered and directed lights will zero in on each of the 34 pieces, including eight sculptures. "The Richard Bellamy Piece," an expansive sculpture, is an arrangement fluorescent lights and corrugated tin sheeting, opposing textures and anchored-versus-floating feelings. Dressed in white crisscrossed suspenders, painter's cap, plaid shirt, jeans and track shoes, the man hailed "artist of the year" by Flash Art, Europe's largest art magazine, described his evolving styles this week while hanging his first Washington exhibition: "First I did what I call Bad Painting, then I entered a masterful period." The shift is apparent, from "bad paintings," where brush strokes are exaggerated, paint drips and outlines are rough, to the later, more polished paintings like "Threat and Sanctuary" (a liferaft in water, shocking yellow, black, blue and purple hues). But the repeated message is content rather than conflict. In "Husband and Wife," a disgruntled or angry or sad couple are in confusing relationship. "Some people have horrific reactions, like the kids died," Jenney says, "To me, she dented the car. It's America."
NEIL JENNEY: PAINTING AND SCULPTURE 1967-1980 -- At the Corcoran through November 8.