SIX years ago Sherry Zvares Kasten exhibited a series of paintings depicting cavernous Metro construction sites. The paintings were in many ways flawed--the artist, a recent master's graduate of the American University art department, was feeling her way. But her choice of subject matter was inspired and, as it turns out, predictive of the impressive course her art would take.

For "Sanctuaries," a series of new paintings on view at the Baumgartner Gallery, Kasten again has taken hold of a cohesive subject that depends upon the power of light and shade to mold form and to evoke the human presence despite its literal absence. The persistence of these themes in her work is important. The increasing sophistication of her technique, the sharpening of her grasp of structure and the deepening of her vision are even more so.

With one exception the "Sanctuaries" paintings are uninhabited interior views of religious places: churches, synagogues, monasteries. Everything in them--walls, stairs, aisles, pews and windows (especially the windows)--is tautly placed in relation to everything else. The whiteness of the windows seems almost impenetrable, but the light that comes through serves both to dramatize three-dimensional structure and to enliven subtly luminous surfaces. The perspective and cropping of the paintings are photographic, while the mood is somber and spiritual.

There is something of Hopper in these paintings--though not the complex tension--and something of Rothko--though not the tragic celebration. That the paintings even suggest so compelling and idiosyncratic a lineage is a measure of serious ambition. Kasten's solo show continues through April 9 at 2016 R St. NW; the gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Landscapes & Wall Sculpture

The "southern landscape" paintings by Frederick D. Nichols at the Osuna Gallery are eye-catching, as pictures of woods in autumn and winter are likely to be. But Nichols' addiction to the bright translucency of color-slide light is hard to take-- the paintings look as if they were backlit--and hard to figure.

Perhaps Nichols likes this effect of artificial luminosity because of its jewellike intensity. Perhaps a more "realistic" color scheme is unimportant to him because his principal interest in these paintings is the creation of complex surfaces. He skillfully employs a divisionist technique and is very good at doing so. The most impressive thing about the paintings is the unusual focus upon the dense center of the woods, with the sky just flickering through the foliage or punching through as a reflection in pond or stream.

For all his skill Nichols fails to convey a convincing representation or impression of nature. Why a landscape painter would want to paint paintings whose first and lasting effect is to call color slides to mind is beyond me, unless his intentions were ironic. Nichols' works seem far too sincere for irony.

The most impressive thing about the kinetic wall sculptures by Edward Lee Hendricks, also on view at the Osuna Gallery, is the extreme precision of their construction. These linear pieces, which typically consist of carefully balanced parts of polished aluminum, stainless steel and lacquer-painted bent rods, move with the slightest draft of air or touch of a finger, like toys in a machine-made Platonic universe.

Both shows continue through March 10 at 406 Seventh St. NW. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Paintings by Tanya

Tanya, an Ecuadorean artist living in Mexico City, paints ecstatically emotional landscapes and figures, part real but mostly imaginary. Fabled cities rise and fall in the distant mountains of her paintings; angels or demons take form in stormy atmospheres. The less specific paintings, with their calligraphic strokes in silver or gold laid quickly over atmospheric explosions (or implosions), are perhaps the more persuasive works in her show at the Organization of American States. But it is hard to escape the feeling that Grunewald, Turner, Pollock and many others are being badly served in this unbridled romantic mish-mash. Through March 25 at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.