Claudia De Monte has always been her own chief subject. In a Corcoran show 10 years ago, she was even her own voyeur, narcissistically observing her strikingly tall, ponytailed self in a series of photographs actually taken by somebody else.
Since then De Monte has evolved a more direct mode of expression that now teeters happily between painting and sculpture. And though they're still wholly egocentric, her new brightly colored cutout paintings at Jones Troyer Gallery (on view simultaneously with a show at the Gracie Mansion Gallery in New York) for the first time have universal overtones.
Titled "Abroad at Home," this engaging show includes several wall-hung works -- including some shaped like tall, classic columns -- all cut from three-quarter-inch Gator board (a plastic-coated foam-core board) and covered with gooey, brightly colored iridescent paint that has been brushed on, or squeezed on through a tube with nibs, the sort used to decorate cakes. One funny large work, titled "Sofa Size Painting," was actually made with the help of a pastry tube. The resulting surfaces look very much like birthday cakes, joyful in color, celebratory in mood and spirit.
The subject is still Claudia, but no longer "St. Claudia," the alter ego whose life the artist invented and chronicled in several icons and triptychs featured in recent shows. De Monte has now taken to worshiping travel and is observed dashing around the world in paintings titled "Escape From Brussels," "Escape From Paris," "Escape From the Yucatan," etc. Attached to the surfaces of each are the paper-pulp "Claudia Dolls" she has been making for the past few years, all holding up their skirts as they run from famous places, such as the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, or St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, or the Temple of Heaven in Peking. They follow a year of travel, which took the artist, literally, around the world.
The notion of escape, says De Monte, is just the armature for these works; "It's not that I don't like being there," says the artist, who borders several paintings with scenes of herself hard at work packing her suitcase. It may not have been her primary intention, but there is in these paintings, nonetheless, an unmistakable sense of speed and tension, of "Claudia" wound up tight and zooming through life, propelled by both exuberance and a seeming inability to stay in one place.
There is also an implied -- and perhaps unintentional -- reference here not only to the artist, but also to all of us, zooming through life too fast. Just about anybody can connect with that.
The idea of dizzying speed is reinforced by diagonal compositions that push urgently forward, and by explosive areas of thick paint, far more authoritatively handled than ever before, especially in "Escape From the Yucatan," one of the show's best.
But there's no hint of remorse. In fact, De Monte shows herself sitting on top of the world -- literally -- perched on a four-foot column, alternately holding the Earth up Atlas-style and tossing it around like a beach ball. Men usually get the commemorative columns, says De Monte. Now she's made her own, and they are memorable indeed. So, in fact, has been her year, which began with a fellowship in Paris and ended in China, and included seven shows around the world. A former Washington resident, De Monte for the past decade has divided her time between New York's Soho (where she lives) and the University of Maryland (where she teaches).
The exhibition will continue at Jones Troyer, 1614 20th St. NW, through Oct. 12. Hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Judith Turim at Touchstone ----
Judith Turim's endearing new drawings at Touchstone continue to explore the hypothetical offstage adventures of various nudes, nymphs, satyrs and gods who appear to have climbed down from ancient Greek vase paintings and Middle Eastern manuscript pages for a relaxing day off. In one spare, ink drawing, a male nude, gone for a swim, is caught perched with an amusing lack of grace upon a rock. In a more dramatic scene, one figure attempts to strangle another. Both no doubt wish they'd stayed on the vase whence they came.
Animating such traditionally stiff and formal figures has become Turim's stock in trade, and she has managed to keep up the humor and variety, though the quality here varies. In this show, she has made some drawings on woven paper (woven, in fact, from old drawings), which lends a new richness and texture. The show continues at Touchstone Gallery, 2130 P St. NW, through September. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m