Andrew Hudson's art is fueled by oppositions. His paintings now at Brody's, 1706 21st St. NW, are charming yet disturbing, loyal yet subversive. Their knowingness is countered by intentional abandon. Hudson, a sophisticate, fights sophistication. Naturally left-handed, he does his drawing with his right hand. He checks his inclinations. He wars on what he knows.
Hudson understands the difference between portraits done from life and color-field abstractions, and in these pictures he does both.
As a teacher at the Corcoran, as a critic and historian, he relies upon his learning. As an artist he distrusts it. "I had come to the conclusion," he wrote in 1980, "that my drawing and painting was too inhibited, because too knowledgeable." Instead of leaning on his knowledge, he set out to subvert it. Long a dogged fan of the critic Clement Greenberg and the artists Jules Olitski, Blaine Larson and Kenneth Noland, Hudson champions "advanced" painting. Yet when he makes his own art, he advances by regressing: His methods lead him forward. They also lead him back.
His paintings done five years ago prefigured what would come. Their unexpected layerings, their portraits-on-abstractions, predicted the fashionable disjunctions that would later be pursued with such astonishing success by the art star David Salle. Yet Hudson's sweetly awkward paintings, while pointing toward the future, also take him backward through the 1970s and the '60s, toward his English childhood. Here and there throughout the show, a little outlined airplane -- unthreatening, endearing, drawn almost automatically -- flies through his pictures. He must have drawn it first during England's finest hour, sprawled there in his drawing room, concentrating fiercely on his pencil and his sketchbook, while in the skies above silk-scarved heroes of the RAF flew off to protect him. Here it is again, a sort of guardian in his art.
Hudson as a painter is both a grown-up and a kid. He still enjoys the zoo (and sometimes, when the mood hits, engraves plates for his prints there). He has a child's fondness for his cats and dogs and playmates. His pictures, seen together, suggest a circle of close friendships. A few familiar models -- Tom, Marilyn and Bill striking unposed poses -- make regular appearances in his art.
His drawing tends toward jaggedness. At least it shies away from smoothness. A V turned upside down indicates an eyebrow; in some of his self-portraits, Ws connected indicate his beard. But his colors are complex. Some are bright, some dark. It is the rightness of the colors that strikes first as one wanders through this show. In "Tom and Marilyn in Bird's-Wing Headdress," Tom is outlined in raspberry, Marilyn in maroon. Both figures are transparent. The painted ground behind them is yellow, orange, green. In "Tom in Gray Shirt With Mr. Miaou," Tom's chin and nose are brown while the hairs of his mustache are blue, and white and red. Mr. Miaou, the cat, is blue.
Hudson risks the messy, he is at ease with the rough and wary of contrivance. Yet one leaves his touching show remembering its poise. It closes Nov. 30. Robert McCurdy Abstracts at Shainman's
Jack Shainman's year-old gallery, the one in Adams-Morgan -- early in the New Year he will open a second, in New York in the East Village -- is showing recent work by Washington's Robert McCurdy, an artist with the courage to work against his strengths. Against one of them at least. Though McCurdy is well-known here for his meticulously finished, life-sized, lifelike figures posed against blank fields, all his pictures now at Shainman's, 2443 18th St. NW, are entirely abstract.
The paintings here are objects; they feel like colored sculptures. One is as conscious of their thought-out, careful engineering as of their surfaces of raked, wax-thickened paint. All of these new pictures belong to what the artist calls his "Table and Vase" series. The "table" he refers to is not a table really, but instead the painted plane, shield-shaped, curve-bottomed, that floats there unexpectedly four inches from the wall. Nor is the "vase" a vase. Resting on the "tables" are forms of three dimensions: Some are windowed, some are curved, some are triangular in section.
McCurdy's move from figuration is not quite as radical as at first it might appear. He says it is "an evolution, rather than a rejection. Before, I was painting an illusion of a real person on an abstract field. Now I'm painting an abstract field on a real object."
McCurdy's "Table and Vase" paintings hint at works we've seen before. Their aluminum supports (built to his specifications by a shipyard in Baltimore), and the way the paint is applied to them, recall the bigger and more complicated constructions of Frank Stella. That raked and thickened paint, meanwhile, suggests the paintings of Sam Gilliam, Larry Poons and Jules Olitski. But McCurdy's layered colors are entirely his own. So, too, are the moods that his new pictures cast.
One feels presences within them. As you move, they seem to watch you. Enigmatic, elegant, mysteriously totemic, they are blank as armored faces. Perhaps it is their floating, or perhaps it is the spaciousness, the sense of airy mist sensed within their colors. They somehow avoid heaviness, as if that armor housed a ghost. The show closes Dec. 8. Dupont Circle Photo Exhibits
Those interested in buying fine photographs in Washington used to have to find their way to Seventh Street or Georgetown. No longer. The best commercial galleries that regularly show photographs nowadays are found between Dupont Circle and 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. Four are there already. A fifth will open soon.
The Kathleen Ewing Gallery, 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW, is showing vintage prints by A. Aubrey Bodine (1906-1970), the Baltimore pictorialist. (Ewing has just published a monograph on the artist.) The Jones Troyer Gallery at 1640 20th St. NW, just across the street, is showing "The Surrealist Impulse," a well-selected group timed to coincide with the Corcoran's enormous Surrealist exhibition. Among the artists at Jones Troyer are Brassai, Bill Brandt, Cartier-Bresson, Kertesz and Frederik Sommer. The Middendorf Gallery, 2009 Columbia Road NW, meanwhile has begun displaying photographs and prints in the bright apartment where Chris Middendorf once lived on his gallery's third floor. The present exhibition there, "An American Selection," includes images by Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Ralston Crawford, Lisett Model, Louis Faurer, Berenice Abbott and Charles Sheeler.
Marie Martin's new gallery at 1417 18th St. NW is showing pastoral and black-and-white photos by Tom Zetterstrom, an artist from Connecticut who manages to move his lens and orchestrate the resulting blurs so that the viewer who confronts his work feels he is moving, too.
None of these galleries exhibits photographs exclusively. But all display them often. A fifth, the Tartt Gallery, run by Jo Tartt Jr., will open in the New Year in a large refurbished townhouse at 2017 Q St. NW. Tartt, long known as a collector here, will devote his opening exhibit to the memorably bizarre images of Joel-Peter Witkin.