The grandest pictures challenge; they test the viewer's soul, his knowledge and his pocketbook. But there are many mansions in the house of art, and one, at least, must be reserved for work that's mostly fun. Joseph Craig English of Washington Grove, Md., makes screenprints of the latter sort. A number are on view now at the Midtown Gallery, 1630 Connecticut Ave. NW. They are -- and I mean this as a compliment -- not difficult at all.
They are easy on the mind. You can read them at a glance and understand them totally. They are easy on the memory. Most show brightened visions of scenes you've seen before. They are easy on the budget, too. Their prices range from $125 to $300, and they work hard for the money. These are decorative objects. Their colors are so jaunty, each could decorate an office or a bland apartment wall.
They work like little windows, but like windows that increase, that heighten the intensity of the thoroughly familiar streetscapes they reveal. Have you ever bought a doughnut from the Fairfax Mister Donut? Or purchased a Big Mac? Or waxed your Chevy till it shined? Ever wondered what the now-defunct Surf Shop in Bethesda was doing selling surfboards so far from the sea? Have you ever bought a bouquet from the downtown flower stand at 13th and F, or a sirloin from Magruder's, or a gray and steam-cooked burger from the Little Tavern on Guilford Avenue in Baltimore? Then you know the scenes he shows.
He juices them with color. His colors are electric. His red Victorian bricks are not merely red, but Coca-Cola-can crimson, his asphalt streets are purple, his barbershops, one notices, have brilliant lime-green floors.
What he likes others like as well -- cruising through the neighborhood on balmy summer nights or summer afternoons, shops that one can trust, the Georgetown Pharmacy, for instance, fresh fruit and fresh flowers, old Cadillacs, new Corvettes.
Washington for years has had a number of meticulous and highly skillful artists -- Lou Stovall, Jonathan Meader -- who have sought to produce screenprints everyone could like and everyone could buy. English has been busy extending that tradition.
"My mental image of Magruder's," writes the artist, "has always been one of little old ladies bumping their shopping carts into my Achilles' tendon." His pictures, like that memory, are likable, local, commonplace, good-humored. They'll be on view through Nov. 30. Stele Work at Wallace Wentworth
Remember the tall stele -- extraterrestrial in origin, blank, black and mysterious -- in "2001"? When they remake that movie, and do not put it past them, they ought to buy the prop from Clyde Lynds of New Jersey, whose stelae are on view at the Wallace Wentworth Gallery, 2006 R St. NW. They are made of concrete -- and of lights. At first glimpse they just stand there, stonily, politely, and then they start to twinkle as if their surfaces were concrete skies alive with countless stars.
It's a trick, but it's a good one. Set into the concrete, among the pebbles and the sand grains, are the tiny tips of light-conducting fibers. Until the lights come on, the fibers are invisible, look as closely as you want, and still you will not see them. And then they start to glow. The sculptures here are programmed (long-burning bulbs and slowly spinning discs, some with colored lenses, are concealed in their bases) so that their constellations, and their colors, slowly change. The one the artist calls "Lot's Wife" now and then begins to weep. Another work nearby grows a "tree of life," like some oriental carpet made of stars in stone.
Tricks soon pall. But Lynds is sufficiently tasteful, and skillful, to skirt the pitfall of the gimmicky. Those who walk into the gallery stop and stare. And stare. It is easy to see why. This, too, is art for everyone. It will remain on view through Nov. 30.