There's never been a question about Leon Berkowitz's importance as teacher and catalyst to Washington artists -- the Color Painters in particular. In the '50s, his Washington Workshop Center for the Arts was the creative hot spot where Morris Louis and Ken Noland met, where Jacob Kainen and other important artists developed, and where the late Gene Davis studied and gained inspiration.
The question has been -- since his return to Washington in the late '60s after several years abroad -- whether Berkowitz could make it as a color-field painter, the fervid enterprise to which he has devoted himself ever since. It's been a long, hard struggle, with peaks and gullies along the way. But as he makes his way toward 70 (he admits to fudging on his age), Berkowitz can be assured that he has established himself, if not as an innovator, as a late-blooming, still-blossoming painter of persistence and integrity.
There's ample evidence in the fact that nearly every show has been better than the last, and the new one at Baumgartner Galleries is no exception. Some things have not changed: Berkowitz is still working with the same billowing clouds and pulsing orbs of luminous color built from layer upon layer of thinned oil washes. And he has stuck doggedly by his garish-dawn and garish-sunset palette of oranges, purples and magenta.
But he has also made progress in the area that has most profoundly undermined his art: that of significant, original form that would both anchor and discipline his surfaces. In "Orion," for example, he has managed two pulsing orbs of orange, one over the other, and they are neither too distinct (which inevitably recalls Rothko) nor too vague to pin the color down. "Within," with its new, waterfall-like format, is even more original, and by far the most complex orchestration of color and form in the show.
This latest Berkowitz update -- his best show to date -- will continue at Baumgartner, 2016 R St. NW, through May. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Just Fur Fun
Wanna have fun? Check out the glitzy, giddy new sculpture by Susan Rose at Addison/Ripley. The whole back gallery has been transformed into a sort of animal shelter for endearing dog-sculptures. They represent a distinctly new breed.
Carved from foamcore, and three or four feet high, each dog is covered with an extraordinary coat of "fur" appropriate to its station in life. "Guard Dog," for example -- shaped like the formidable guardian of a Buddhist shrine -- is encrusted with glitter, while the obedient, seated "Working Dog" wears a shaggy, spaghetti-like coat of colored rubber bands. "Painter's Dog" stands helpless, covered with slathers of dripped and splattered paint. "Crouching Dog" -- covered with red-rubber points of the sort you find on toothbrush handles -- is one of the hardest to leave behind.
If these mixed-media canines can be said to have a pedigree, it is chiefly from the cute dogs that turn up in comic strips. But there are also several sly references to the saw-toothed beasties now ubiquitous in Neo-Expressionist painting. Rose has transformed them into works that are both paintings and sculpture.
There is inevitably a tacky, makeshift aspect to works constructed from glitter, plastic toys and such. But in the dog sculptures, Rose has managed to wholly eliminate the makeshift look that characterized much of her last show. Titled "Germs and Genetic Disorders," that earlier show featured dishes painted with magnified "germs" and benign monster-mutations made from toy rubber frogs and plastic baby dolls. This show, except for the works in the front gallery (an antiwar statement that bombs out), leaves tackiness well behind. It is Rose's most polished and ambitious exhibition to date.
"Bored Dog," "Schizophrenic Dog" and the rest of Rose's inventive bestiary can be seen at 9 Hillyer Ct. NW through June 1. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Photos in a Flash
No one who's seen Harold E. Edgerton's famous photograph of a bullet zooming through an apple is likely ever to forget it. A famed professor of electrical engineering at MIT, Edgerton not only invented the strobe light, but it was his pioneering research that formed the basis of modern electronic speed flash and stop-motion photography. Thanks both to his experiments and the wondrous photographs that came out of them, we are able to observe all manner of things that happen too fast for the eye to see, from the dent in a football caused by the impact of a kicker's foot to the grace and beauty of a dancer frozen in flight.
That Edgerton is an artist as well as innovator is made very clear in a wonderful show of his photographs now at Georgetown's Govinda Gallery , 1227 34th St. NW, through May 18. A fine new book on Edgerton's work is on sale. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.