LIKE STANDING stones or termite mounds or ruins left by war, Alan Stone's small sculptures seem wreathed with dark power. A number are on view at the McIntosh/Drysdale Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW. They seem the sort of objects that make perfect sense in dreams.
They hint, but only hint, at towers that guard stormy seas, at temples barred to common folk, at arrow slots and insect hives and suits of empty armor. Some of them have little legs. Some have doors or domes or grills. Should the viewer blink, such reveries may vanish, leaving in their wake table-scaled bronzes of much formal interest. But then the ghosts return, bearing their reminders of snakes, cleft sticks and castles. Stone's works of bronze and wax cannot be deciphered. And yet it seems preposterous to describe them as abstract.
Most modern art, not long ago, fought off evocation. The viewer was invited to see color just as color, to think of mass, material, and of Euclid's propositions. But Stone's art calls on memory, of places and of weapons, of ropes and wrinkled skin.
Martin Puryear's sculptures and those of Robert Stackhouse (both once lived here) have a similar effect. Puryear's wooden circles are not merely circles; they look like charms or messages, they seem haunted by the woods. The wooden ships of Stackhouse certainly would sink, and yet they carry thoughts of voyages and vikings and the hollows of the sea. Stone's art, too, is felt more than it is seen.
Stone is 38 years old. He works afternoons in the Congressional Post Office, "a great job for an artist." He was raised in Shreveport, La., "among Pentacostalists," and after college in the South was sent to Botswana, in southern Africa, by the Peace Corps. "I think back on it," he says, "as the most important time of my life." The houses there are round, their walls are mud, their roofs are thatch. The land is flat, monotonous. Stone mentions a traveler who, after a long walk, came upon a tree and felt compelled to hug it. Some spirit of that continent is apparent in his sculptures. Some of them are able to amuse as they intimidate. Like towers or like huts or spaceships just-arrived, his smaller bronzes, those on shelves, evoke a sense of place. His wall-hung sculptures here, the ones that look like snakes, are made of wire and dark wax. His show runs through July 2.
John Ryan's Pictures
Dealer Nancy McIntosh, who is leaving soon for Houston and will be sorely missed, also is exhibiting small pictures by Washington's John Ryan. They are as sweet as they are fierce. Ryan paints the sort of things that Raymond Chandler wrote about: pool halls, gamblers, private eyes, bars where hard-eyed women sit alone and drink. His brushwork is quick, angular and might be called New Wave. But Ryan's art is free of the usual New Wave bombast. Instead it is marked by delicacy of presentation and modesty of scale. He is an intimist of sorts. His tough pictures are made lovely by the way that they are shown. His handmade frames are sprayed with silver, gold or midnight blue, or sprinkled with small stars. Despite his street bums, ghosts and drunks, his pictures make one think more of jewel cases than they do of screams. His show also closes July 2.
Cynthia Ann Bickley's Paintings
Ten years ago, when she was exhibiting large and moody sculptures of rubber, steel, canvas and silk, Cynthia Ann Bickley seemed one of the most promising of Washington's young artists. For those who recall her older abstract paintings and her use of odd materials, her new work at Henri's, 1500 21st St. NW, will be a surprise. Now she paints from life. Her paintings here are views of her studio window in suburban Maryland. There are still lifes in the foreground, of green apples, or a glass jar with spring flowers, or the thick leaves of a rubber plant; then the glass itself, gleaming with reflection; then the backyard garden, bleak in winter, lush in spring; then the alley and garages and passers-by outside. The curtains of the windows, seen peripherally, look like small Sam Gilliam paintings. She looks hard and long at the things she paints until afterimages dance in her eyes, and Bickley paints them, too. She paints every needle of that pine, every blossom on that bush. Her pictures are complicated, earnest, touching. They'll be on view through June.