Naul Ojeda is a passionate poet, a teller of tales of love, exile, hope and heartbreak--and sometimes of politics.
His prints symbolically recount his odyssey from his native Uruguay to Chile, where he worked as a photojournalist until the Marxists were overthrown, then to Mexico and now to exile in Washington.
These bold, highly stylized images of men and women, doves and fishes, moons and sunbursts are cut into woodblocks and printed by hand in small editions. Most are black and white, but some are heightened with brilliant red for the sun, or bright orange or yellow for the flowers.
Fifty of the hundreds of the woodcuts Ojeda has made since he came to Washington six years ago are now on view at the International Monetary Fund gallery. It is his best and biggest show to date.
It is the broad range of subject matter and mood that is so remarkable here--from joyful and whimsical to mysterious and poignant.
"Red Rug," for instance, is about nothing more complicated than a pair of lovers cuddled under a blanket. "Alley Cat" is a warm, anecdotal account of a day in the life of a cat who roams the alley behind the artist's Dupont Circle studio.
"Poet Above the Crowd" is more serious--a dreamlike fantasy in which the artist floats in isolation over a labyrinthine city. This melancholy print was occasioned by Ojeda's first New York show, which failed to attract attention.
One of the most poignant images is "Long Awaited Reunion," in which a floating figure carries a dove as an offering to a young woman whose face is depicted as the sun. It was made, Ojeda tells us, when he received his first letter from a daughter he had left behind in Uruguay seven years before. By then, she was living in Holland--thus the windmill and tulips. The image is haunting whether you know the facts or not, as is the surrounding border of tiny autobiographical fragments: a camera, a guitar, an envelope, a farmer at work in the fields and a small, written declaration of his political views: "The choice is between liberty and despotism."
The tragedy of the exile weaves its way through this show, specifically in "Illusion and Disillusion in Exile," in which a woman fights to keep a rowboat on a straight course in the midst of a whirlpool. At its best, this is powerful work that carries forward the strong printmaking tradition begun in Uruguay in the 1930s, and known to North Americans chiefly through the work of Antonio Frasconi. It is high time that Ojeda took his place in this illustrious company as well. Incredibly, most of these prints are priced under $200.
The IMF Gallery, in the newly expanded, glass-covered atrium at 700 19th St. NW, is closed on Saturdays, but open Mondays through Fridays, 9 to 5 through June 16. Visitors must present a personal ID to enter, but this show is worth the trouble. Worth IMF's trouble would be some decent lighting for this gallery. Illumination has gone from bad to appalling. Mary Hartmann's Watercolors
On the garden level of Mazza Gallerie, not far from the chocolate tennis racquets at Kron Chocolatiers, there has been, for some years, a poster and frame shop called Contemporary Graphics Ltd. Last winter, the gallery decided to add original art.
Washington's Mary Hartmann is the featured artist of the moment, and shows great progress since earlier shows at Hallway Gallery, though this show is badly in need of editing_a service serious dealers should know how to provide.
Collectively titled "In Feathers and Halos," the best works are watercolor portraits of women in hats and headdresses. They recall art from Florentine Renaissance portraits to 19th-century Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts. One of the strongest_"Geisha & Warrior"_focuses on an especially pleasing abstract tangle of ribbons and hairpins. Another features a woman in Renaissance garb, incongruously holding an electric plug. It is one of the more interesting attempts to combine the old and the new. This show will continue through June 11. Hours are Mondays through Saturdays, 10 to 6. The gallery is also open till 9 on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.