Richard Estes' clean, finely detailed views of empty streets, storefronts and other urban vistas are based in the mysterious. Estes reputedly dislikes the environments he has become famous for painting, but there is no clue to this in the tone of his work, nor is there the kind of social critique Edward Hopper implied with his somber tones and isolated figures. Estes simply gives the viewer perfectly composed views of the city, neutral in tone but haunting.
Now he is doing it in silkscreen prints, and his exhibit at David Adamson Editions (406 Seventh St. NW, through Nov. 16) reveals them as an equally outstanding accomplishment.
The centerpiece is "Holland Hotel," a huge print consisting of more than 200 separate color registrations. More than a year in production, it is an immensely impressive example of technical virtuosity by both the artist and his printer, Michael Domberger of Stuttgart, West Germany. It shows what has become Estes' compositional signature: a church and other buildings on the left side of the street reflected in the window of an appliance store on the right, creating a diptych-like effect.
Eight smaller prints, in a series titled "Urban Landscapes No. 3," show more closely focused scenes: the exterior of a subway train, the interior of a bus, a small airport, a shopping mall, glass fac,ades. Scrutiny of these works invariably reveals the same small, careful gestures found in Estes' paintings, the modernistic touches of a classically oriented master.
Five small works by Robert Cottingham, another well-known realist, are up along with the Estes prints. A color lithograph, "Black Girl," shows a movie theater marquee, closely cropped in the manner that exemplifies Cottingham's style. He is much more the visual poet of detail than Estes, showing us street signs and other urban insignia in a way that removes them from their context, distorting them and questioning their ultimate meaning. Pastels by Joan Stolz
At first viewing, Joan Stolz's pastel drawings at Gallery K (2032 P St. NW, through Oct. 20) create an eerie sense of familiarity: it might be the blond girl originally made familar to us by Vela'zquez, or the magnified, beastly head that was originally a detail in a painting by Gauguin, or it might be the composition and placement of the two blue boys in "Boys by the Pool," directing attention back to Picasso, except that in this case the blue boys are wearing blue shades and blue flippers. Whatever the case is in particular, the process will be one of gradual recognition, probably followed by laughter.
Stolz is a Maryland Institute graduate (class of '82) whose work was featured in the 1983 "Options" exhibition at the Washington Project for the Arts. Her exhibition at Gallery K is boldly humorous, especially so in comparison with the work of other contemporary artists who take the appropriation of existing images into their own work so very seriously. This is an impressive debut.
There are 12 pastels in the exhibition. Most but not all have recognizable sources, including two that refer to Leonardo: "Phillip with the House to Himself" and "Swim Lesson." The latter is a well-rendered take on Leonardo's compositional mannerisms, with a stars-and-stripes swimsuit to bring the content up to date. The contrasts caught in the cross-references to old (and modern) masters and contemporary iconography allow a great deal of witty commentary. But beyond that, in the rendition of the somewhat stumpy-looking figures, and in the darker tones of the work, there is a deeper, more elusive source of feeling. Stolz is formidable, and an original. Anita Charney Harris at Gallery K
Anita Charney Harris' multicolored, pointillistic paintings and three-dimensional works, also at Gallery K, suggest a world apart from the one in which we all live, perhaps an ideal world, in which innocence, peace and harmony prevail. With such a thesis informing her basic esthetic, Harris could easily have produced work as trite as Hallmark cards, but there is an edge here that makes it compelling, if slightly bizarre. Triangles, circles, pyramids, lines of cutout doll figures and tiny cameo portraits float in swirls of brilliant color, creating fantastic visions in a mannner that is in some ways closer to what we expect from folk art than from fine art. The scope of Harris' work is ambitious, though, and it is that ambition, along with tremendous energy, that saves her work from being trivial.