Nothing in the galleries can top the show the trees are putting on this week, but here's a rundown on some of the competition.
New monotypes by Washington Color School painter Kenneth Noland will go on view today at Kornblatt Gallery, bringing us up to date on Noland's six-year love affair with handmade paper and innovative printmaking techniques.
Until two years ago, most of these works were built primarily from formed, beautifully tinted paper pulp. Now Noland has become more directly involved with the printing press, first "biting" a large copper plate with his various signature forms -- concentric chevrons, diamonds and diagonal stripes -- and then painting directly on the plate, finally running the whole thing through a press. The result: a single colored print, or monotype, in which the chevron forms stand in high relief. The same plate is often wiped, entirely repainted, and run through the press again to make another monotype, producing a series of variations on the same format that are surprisingly different in effect.
Some of the results are bland, others spectacular, among the latter, the blue variations in a series titled "Bravo Barcelona," produced at a workshop in that city, where the artist now spends a part of every year. But for sheer drama, it is the huge (3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet) richly textured blue, mauve and pink "Doors and Ghosts" that best makes the point: In the right hands, prints can have all the impact of an abstract painting. Hours at Kornblatt are 10:30 to 5:30, Tuesdays through Saturdays. The show will continue at 406 Seventh St. NW through Nov. 20. Gurdon Woods Works at WPA
It is no surprise to discover that Los Angeles sculptor Gurdon Woods was once an army pilot. All of the small, table-top scale, cast-concrete "landscapes" in his impressive 20-year retrospective at WPA (Washington Project for the Arts) place the viewer up and over, looking down upon what appear to be the vaporized, archeological remains of modern times. In "Maquette for Posterity," typical of several works, there's nothing left but urban rubble, singed wood and melted glass. Others of these assemblages, like "Monument to the Last Handgun," are mini-monuments to the very things that appear to have destroyed us: Here the gun, half-buried in sand, is the only surviving relic in the dust-covered, unpeopled cityscape.
Though the human condition is Woods' chief concern, he also tackles more abstract concepts, such as the passage of time, typically in "Floating Time," in which one of many fossils in this show is suspended over another tiny barren landscape. "Golgotha," with its simple wooden ladder reaching into the sky, is one of the strongest works in the show, and also a rare statement of the triumph of faith and hope over desolation.
Woods' strength is his ability to express philosophical ideas through simple, abstract means, and to give even small and modest works a sense of monumentality. He is also an admired and beloved figure among his many former students, including WPA director Jock Reynolds, who worked under him at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Prior to that, Woods was director of the influential San Francisco Art Institute.
The show, sponsored by the Mark Rothko Foundation, closes today at 5 at 400 Seventh St. NW. Figure Painting at Hull Gallery
Painters Carlton Fletcher and Lee Newman, both of the American University faculty, have shown together before at Hull Gallery, but in the present show, they've both concentrated on figure painting, and the results are very different indeed. Fletcher's work looks like something out of turn-of-the-century America; Newman's looks a little too much like something out of Francis Bacon.
Fletcher's show centers on one large, darkly dramatic painting titled "Villa of Mysteries," and though it's said to be set in a contemporary go-go bar, you'd never know it. Rendered in extreme light and dark, with a restrained palette of blacks and browns, it looks more like a '20s speakeasy, an impression emphasized by the dress of the two swells standing at center, the man wearing a straw sailor hat. Nothing is really happening here: The couple seems to be sweeping into the room as the waitresses, looking like ballet dancers in leotards, pose here and there. Another figure, presumably a waiter, holds two white banners devoted to no particular cause, except adding drama and tension to the scene.
In the end, the whole painting is an exercise in grand-manner painting, swathed in mystery, and it works. Fletcher has also made three oval portraits of women that, though contemporary, look like family heirlooms. His ability to capture the look of the old without in any way appearing dated or imitative is what makes these paintings so remarkable. He has also made several dry points and monotypes that are similarly dark and moody.
In Newman's far more colorful and expressionistic paintings, faces and figures have been distorted in a way that obliterates detail, but he does not offer a substitute focus. "Head After Rubens" is the strongest of these paintings, though on the whole, Newman's best work in this show is in the several drawings he has made of people -- often old women -- sitting, smoking, eating or otherwise occupying themselves in fast-food restaurants, where he has observed and captured them in vigorous and accomplished black and red chalk drawings.
The show will continue at 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW through Nov. 2. Hours at Hull Gallery are Mondays through Saturdays, 9:30 to 5. Photo-Realism at Foxhall Gallery
Briefly noted: Just a few doors from Hull Gallery, in the same building at 3301 New Mexico Ave., is the Foxhall Gallery, currently showing (through Nov. 2) photo-realist painter Charles Ford (obviously a fan of Richard Estes), who makes better-than-average, crisp, chilly portraits of Washington and New York storefronts, diners and movie theaters, including the "Georgetown."