YOU MIGHT CALL Austrian painter Erich Brauer a benign Bosch.
Though his fantasies teem with figures and exotic flora and fauna in imaginary landscapes, he celebrates the joys and foibles of life -- not the horrors of death and the damned -- in his small, shimmering oils now on view at Baumgartner Galleries.
A native of Vienna, where he hid from the Nazis throughout World War II, Brauer helped launch what is now known as the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism -- the only significant art movement to emerge from post-war Austria. After seven years in Paris -- where he made his living as a folk singer and dancer -- he settled in Ein Hod, an artist's colony in Israel, where he still has a home.
In this show, Brauer continues to paint in a highly personal style that echoes traditional, northern European mysticism, but in a gentler, more lyrical mood than before, and with universal themes suggested by specific references to Jewish folklore and philosophy. In one of a series of small paintings based on the life of King David, for example, the young David faces a Goliath who takes the form of a giant apparition -- "the sort of larger-than-life figure we all fear," says Brauer. Another appealing work, titled "David Between Sword and Lute," symbolizes the human condition: "The whole story of man is reflected in David's life," Brauer says.
But whatever the subjects in these soft-focus, images of singers, musicians, rabbis and biblical kings, Brauer adds that he is not merely painting illustrated narratives. "Storytelling is simply a motor for me. It is the paintings -- as paintings -- that are important."
And there he puts his finger on the only criterion by which we can fairly judge these works: Do we need to be told what they're about to enjoy them, or do they stand on their own as paintings, rousing the imagination of the viewer and offering some sense of pleasure, humor or understanding? Several of these paintings, in my view, beg for an explanation. But the best of them -- notably "Part of the City" and "Flourishing Stones," which abstractly imply the bond between the Israeli and the land -- are most successful indeed.
The show will continue through Dec. 31 at 2016 R St. NW. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6. Watercolor Show
How does a painter, trained in the traditional techniques of the Orient, make modern, Western art? The transition of China-born Kit-Keung Kan, who now lives in Washington, is an interesting case in point. His watercolors are currently on view at Touchstone Gallery.
Since coming to America, Kan has developed a distinctive style that combines aspects of Eastern and Western art. Using classic Oriental subject matter -- majestic mountain landscapes enveloped in clouds -- he has reduced his forms to simplified, stylized shapes: The mountains become flat pyramidal forms that overlap, and the sense of depth is further established by calligraphic rivers that snake through the valleys into the distance. Delicately rendered in ink and watercolor on rice paper, this show differs from his last in the increasing use of color and pure calligraphic form. It is not clear that the change is for the better.
Paired with new ceramics by Rima Schulkind, the exhibition will continue through Nov. 21. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5; Sundays, noon to 5. Glen Echo Gallery
Don't let Raya Bodnarchuk's new show at the Glen Echo Gallery scare you off. Her advancing army of carved wooden dogs, cats and bunny rabbits have been massed to look menacing, but up close it becomes clear they wouldn't -- and couldn't -- hurt a fly.
Each is 2 feet long and hewn with a chain saw from Douglas fir beams. These boxy, brown-stained animals with drill-hole eyes and nostrils are not the most serious sculptures Bodnarchuk has made, but they have the distinctive and endearing quality of all of her work, widely known through the Glen Echo brochures she has designed for the eight years she has been an artist-in-residence at this national park for the arts.
Also on view are several cut-out collages of the sort featured in her recent show at the Corcoran -- simplified forms that reveal her extraordinary empathy with small animals. In "Reason Will Prevail," a cat and dog face off in a rainstorm of red and purple triangles. Especially poignant are the dark, nostalgic cutouts dealing with Glen Echo Park at night. In "Clear of the Fray," birds and animals float over the grand old Crystal Pool, razed last summer for lack of funds to shore it up.
This captivating show, which also features T-shirts designed by Bodnarchuk, will continue through Dec. 1, Mondays through Fridays, 10 to 5, Sundays noon to 5.