ROBERT BERMELIN'S city-life paintings, on view at the Fendrick Gallery, are disquieting from several points of view. The subjects themselves are insistently worrisome: confrontations between the viewer and some unexpected event, at once trivial and, possibly, a matter of life or death, that takes place on the refuse-strewn sidewalks surrounding the painter's studio in New York.
Then, there is the painter's attitude toward his subjects, which he moralistically wants us to share. Bermelin takes a dim view of social contracts of all sorts. His city is a hard world falling apart at the seams, or at least at the edges, a world of bums, cops, whores, addicts--lost souls driven beyond despair to violent action (self-destructive and otherwise).
Often Bermelin underlines the point with heavy-handed, if seemingly haphazard, symbolism: The fire in "Fire on 7th Avenue" engulfs the fire hydrant; a tiny fist in the middle-ground of "City Street: Touching (The Refusal)" protrudes ominously from a head that looms hugely in the foreground of the picture. (The fist makes its point even though, ironically, it turns out to be holding the leash of a dog.)
And there is his method: figures painted in a blur of movement in the context of tour-de-force perspective and foreshortening. Sometimes the device seems awkward and forced, as in the nearly indecipherable foreground heads of the "City Street--Refusal" picture. Sometimes it works, and everything comes together. The looming, disembodied hand in the right foreground of "Handshake from a Stanger" sets up just the kind of shock-of-recognition tension that the artist is after.
Bermelin lives in New Jersey and travels by car each day to his studio in lower Manhattan. His cityscape paintings -- vast aerial views of the web of elevated highways in the north Jersey flatlands -- make a curious constrast to, and comment upon, the urban narratives. It is as the artist discovered, to his own amazement, that the whole thing somehow holds together -- unreasonably, but tenaciously. Through Oct. 30 at 3059 M St. NW, open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Six Artists at Addison/Ripley
Representational subject matter is the sole common thread in the show of works by six young Washington painters at the Addison/Ripley Gallery. Paintings in the neo-expressionist vein by Aimee Jackson and Gayil Nalls are persuasive, if trendy. Eerie icons behave with dreamlike logic upon the spartan stage sets that Jackson paints with teeth-gnashing brilliance. Nalls sets up an effective contrast between subject matter and format -- iconic scenes of violence and alienation depicted upon tiny, precious, gold-leaf panels.
Stephen T. Moore's visions of animals, pyramids and palm trees are painted in searing sunset colors with a tiny, thickly laden brush. Donald Davidson depicts forceful, neoprimitive rituals in a style that still owes too much to postimpressionism. Views of lonely interiors -- part construction, part painting -- by David Douglas are clever but too finicky to be really moving. Alice Kreit's Diebenkornish figures work fairly well as small sketches but remain unresolved as large paintings. Each artist gets a respectful installation. Through Oct. 16 at 9 Hillyer Court (behind the Phillips Collection and the Cosmos Club). Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Hnizdovsky at Jane Haslem
Jacques Hnizdovsky was born in the Ukraine in 1915 and received academic training as a painter in Yugoslavia. He made his first, Du reresque woodcuts in 1944, and after his emigration to the United States in 1949, he became known primarily as a graphic artist. Thus the still-life paintings in his retrospective exhibition at the Jane Haslem Gallery near Dupont Circle come as a pleasant surprise. Portraying boxes of fruits or vegetables, they are schematic in format and soft in color.
Still, his modest vision seems best suited to the woodcut. Even in prints that are not much more than playful caricatures -- humorously elongated sheep are a favorite motif -- the authority of his technique is impressive: The blocks are cut into intricate, repetitive patterns with unerring sharpness, and the printing of perfectly weighted blacks is masterful. Hnizdovsky is at his best in woodcuts that straightforwardly depict a single subject: a bird, a flower, a tree, a basket of nuts. Through Oct. 9 at 2121 P St. NW, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.