William Woodward says he has been too busy painting to watch the current TV serialization of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited." But the spiritual connection has not escaped visitors to his new show at Fendrick Gallery.
"Ah!" they often sigh upon encountering "Venetian Cafe," a sun-drenched painting nearly as seductive as the yellow chairs within it, which for centuries have lured passers-by into Florian's cafe in the Piazza San Marco. One is almost disappointed not to find Waugh's characters -- Sebastian, Charles and Cara -- at one of the tables, lolling over their morning espresso.
Yet the sea of chairs here -- as well those that fill the scenes of the sandy beaches at Deauville and the seaside cafes of Venice -- remain oddly devoid of people. Where is everyone? A closer look reveals the presence of an intriguing, invisible sub-theme that pervades and enlivens these works: the dry, stiff wind that has given many of them their titles.
In "Boreas," for example, beach umbrellas have been tightly furled and awning chairs stowed against a snapping north breeze. There is no storm, yet the place is deserted but for a few diehards who seem to find the wind strong enough to keep them out of the water, but not quite strong enough to send them home. The painting defines the strength of the wind subliminally, unspecifically, mysteriously.
Even more subtle and powerful is "Meltemi," which seems a symphony of lush, varying blues in the sky, sea and abandoned chairs, until one becomes aware of the true animating force: the hot, Greek wind of the title, made palpable through the pillow-like poufs raised by the tied-on tablecloths. The sea is turbulent, but the brilliance of the light denies the presence of the storm. Again, it is clearly the wind that has left the tables bereft of sitters, and the introduction of this conceptual dimension lifts these paintings out of the travel-poster category into the realm of significant contemporary art.
All of these very large, ambitious oils are not as spell-binding as "Meltemi," but as a body of work they clearly signal a new and welcome phase for Woodward, a much-admired Washington artist and George Washington University professor whose virtuoso handling of paint in the grand manner has sometimes tended to the slick and superficial. Here, at last, Woodward has found a way to lavish his painterly skills on subject matter that is evocative, strong in compositional possibilities and ultimately more significant in terms of depth and feeling than what he has done before. His breakthrough show continues at 3059 M St. NW through March 6. Hours are 9:30 to 5:30, Mondays through Saturdays. Paintings by Wayne Paige
If Bill Woodward's paintings exude old-world calm, there is a sense of new-world hysteria in the intriguing work of Wayne Paige, now on view at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW. In his last show, Paige proved himself a highly idiosyncratic artist whose paintings (with free-form, papier-ma che' frames attached) were best described as "social surrealism" -- social comment inspired by some of the more fearsome aspects of contemporary life -- but expressed in terms of half-real, half-imagined images that were, in the end, rather funny. The painting of a wart-covered high-rise building chasing a couple through Central Park stands out as one of the more memorable examples.
In his current show, Paige has pursued the same themes, but in a seemingly more serious and complex way, and in a more elegant format. The small, biomorphically shaped frames are now carved and smoothly finished from walnut, and then scratched (or burned) with graffiti-like half-sentences that relate loosely to the pictures that go within them -- sometimes two or three to a frame. A liner of gold leaf separates the frames from the paintings, lending the semi-precious look of old manuscript miniatures. Until you get up close.
And then the visual shriek begins, though it is rarely clear exactly what the artist is railing at in these daytime nightmares, beyond a general loathing of greed and war and destruction -- which seems to be everywhere and inevitable to a seemingly helpless, hapless mankind. City skylines are aflame as people run screaming into manholes along with frightened animals. "The History of Chewing Gum" was one of the more explicit narratives, beginning with the birth of the pink stuff under a palm tree, and ending up being offered by a helmeted soldier to a naked, emaciated child -- an act which has no doubt taken place in every war since gum was packaged. "Moongoggles Gift" and "Dr Lung's Atomic Eggroll" I leave to others to decipher, noting that the results may be elusive, but that the hunt can be most provocative and rewarding.
Also on view is one of the best small shows of contemporary Haitian art to be shown in a gallery in some time, with paintings by M. Henry, St. Jean, St. Brice and metal sculptor G. Liautaud worth special notice. Both shows continue through next Saturday, and are open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6.