Those attracted -- or even those repelled -- by the Expressionist revival ought to pay a visit to Sylvia Snowden's exhibition now at Brody's Gallery, 1706 21st St. NW. Her show crackles with intensity. And its timing is just right.
While "German Expressionist Prints From the Washington Collection of Ruth and Jacob Kainen" at the National Gallery of Art explores the movement's sources, and "Susan Rothenberg" at the Phillips Collection (just down the street from Brody's) offers an instructive glimpse of one of its Manhattan manifestations, Snowden's here presents Neo-Expressionist paintings with a Washingtonian spin.
What makes them feel so local is their unrestrained (and part-Parisian) color. Perhaps it is this city's light; or the influence of the great Impressionist collections of Duncan Phillips and Chester Dale, those lovers of French art; or the example of the Washington Color School. Whatever the reason, most painters here paint colorfully. Snowden does so, too.
Rothenberg likes black and white. But Snowden -- a graduate of Howard, who received her masters of fine arts degree there 20 years ago, and who has also worked in Paris -- prefers yellows shot with white, deep maroons and crimsons, orange and sky blues. Her figures twitch and writhe, and leap out at the viewer, but even as they go about their agitated business, they feel drenched with sun.
They are named for real people, for neighbors she encounters near her studio at Fifth and M streets NW, but the thickly painted figures are not exactly portraits. All of them are bald, and most have screaming mouths, their hands are big and clawlike, and the twisting of their legs and arms suggests flesh that has been boned. Her images, at times, appall. But her colors do the opposite. They fill the room with light, they entertain the eye.
Her brush moves, as her figures dance, with musical abandon. But behind their restlessness one feels a sort of rigor -- at least one feels its ghost. Some of Snowden's paintings, "Ethel Moyd" for instance, have the centrality of targets. Others, such as "Michelle Haberon," are based on strict diagonals. Snowden's edged and relatively flat passages of color, and her geometric compositional skeletons, also give her pictures a Washingtonian feel. Often as one views them one forgets that one is seeing images of people. Snowden's paintings are an outgrowth of -- rather than a retreat from -- wholly abstract art. They will be at Brody's through Oct. 5. Elizabeth Falk
The sculpture of Washington's Elizabeth Falk, now at Middendorf's, 2009 Columbia Rd. NW, recalls those fine bronzes, detailed and table-sized, that graced Victorian parlors a century ago. But unlike Antoine Louis Barye, who cast stags and snakes and tigers, and unlike Frederic Remington, who gave us cowboys on the trail, Falk does not hymn the out-of-doors. Her figures are instead contemporary portrayals of interior states of mind -- of alienation, loneliness and consciousness of death.
Falk's people live in shadow. Few of them know joy. In "The Cure" (1984), a nude woman writhes in helplessness, perhaps in a hospital, while electric wires penetrate her heart and head. In "The Release" (1985), a naked and starved man, perhaps a death camp victim, stands in expectation before an open door. The young woman in "The Dance" (1984) swirls about in fear while the dark skeleton of Death himself stands at her right hand.
All her works are figural, and often they are choreographed in small dramatic groups. Like flies stuck on flypaper, two women and one man fight to free themselves from strange, elastic ground in the piece she calls "The Journey." Four condemning powers -- one, again, is Death -- weigh the fate of a young woman in a sculpture called "The Judges" (1984). Her figures seem to move, to breathe. Though only inches tall, they have the look of life.
These are the most impressive, the most lifelike and most moving works Falk has yet made. Her increasing control of depiction -- and of theater -- sends one's mind adrift, and suspends one's disbelief, but would do so more compellingly if her details were finer. Remington and Barye were masters of meticulousness, and that quality contributed greatly to their art. But if one peers too closely at Falk's slightly clumsy details, at the weapons in "The Dead" or at the shoes in "The Listener" (1982), the spell is somehow broken. Her show closes Oct. 5. Arnold Mesches
The Jack Shainman Gallery, 2443 18th St. NW, is showing the canvases of Arnold Mesches, 63, who has been a figurative Expressionist for a quarter of a century. This is his 47th solo show, although his first in Washington. Much about his art -- its slashing brushwork, its slightly garish color -- is wholly up to date, though his historical borrowings (from Ingres and Goya) and his knowledge of anatomy offend the present fashion for rough-and-ragged art. The best of his figures -- the two red nudes in cowls in "The Recitation" (1983), and the giant face of "Paul" (1980) -- have considerable power. Mesches lives on the West Coast, and in a number of his subjects -- body builders preening, lawn chairs in the sun -- California shows. His exhibit closes Oct. 8.