Gregory Amenoff's impressive, rhythmic oil paintings at the Middendorf Gallery (2009 Columbia Rd. NW) recall the distinction between abstract and nonobjective art. His paintings are abstract, in the sense of "to abstract from nature," rather than being wholly self-referential (as, for instance, de Stijl painting or minimal sculpture were intended to be).
The nature that Amenoff abstracts from, however, is in large measure a fantastical, imaginary domain. Strange, unnamed creatures with brilliant plumage share the terrain with curiously inflated roots, trees, plants and rivers. In terms of style and intellectual sources, Amenoff's work is a hybrid -- he combines the febrile inventiveness of the surrealists, the nature-abstraction of Arthur G. Dove and the bravura brushwork of Willem de Kooning -- and this combination is persuasive primarily because the style and the means fit the content.
Amenoff's work pulses with a sort of primal energy: The rhythm of the writhing, tightly interlocked forms, seen in topsy-turvy, flattened-out perspective, begins at the edge of the paintings and surges inward. Each separate form is carefully delineated, and yet none is unrelated to the others. The quality of the brushwork (Amenoff works rapidly in oil paints with a thickly loaded brush) and the unnaturalistic colors (a cave-like atmosphere permeates even his most brilliantly colored works) contribute greatly to the pervasive, and not entirely reassuring, sense of fecundity.
The exhibition continues through Nov. 10.