Only a magician could turn the image of a Hecht's parking ramp into a work of art. And Michael Francis is just such a magician, as demonstrated by his recent paintings of the Washington area on exhibit at Gallery K. Although a longtime local resident, Francis paints his subjects with the freshness and excitement of someone seeing them for the first time. These 28 oils feature the intensely sunny railroad yards, highway intersections and Maine Avenue waterfront scenes for which he is known. And there are surprises -- several lush summer farmscapes, some delicately tinted snow scenes, and an arresting nighttime view of a quiet residential street.
With just a few broad, painterly brushstrokes Francis conjures up a tree, a house, a car. But he goes beyond realism. Like the 17th-century Dutch landscapists whose low horizon lines he adopts, Francis makes ordinary subjects look extraordinary. The most undistinguished suburban houses, roads and shopping centers are transformed through the artist's sensual application of creamy paint and his joyous use of color -- on boxcars, power lines and those expansive, iridescent skies.
Washingtonians will enjoy identifying familiar sites in Francis' paintings. More important, his works force us to take another look at our everyday surroundings. Francis' paintings will be on view through March 9 at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.