Washington painter John Winslow, a skilled traditional realist, might seem an unlikely candidate for high adventure, but his new show at Bader Gallery reveals him to be daring indeed. Widely known and admired for his luminous, painterly scenes of himself in his studio with family members quietly posed nearby, Winslow has here suddenly shifted both the look and focus of his art so drastically that even his staunchest fans may not recognize the work -- let alone like it. Like it or not, his willingness to reach beyond the safety of the status quo deserves admiration.
These 16 large oils (and watercolor studies for them), collectively titled "The Artist's Dream," no longer concern themselves in any way with the precise visual reality of Winslow's studio. Rather, they focus entirely upon the dream-like "reality" of his own mind and imagination, which is teeming with fragments of remembered art that spans the centuries, from the muscular slaves of Michelangelo and the boyish angels of Caravaggio to the ample women of Manet and of Soho's David Salle.
Winslow still often places himself and his easel at the center of these paintings, but it is the artist's inner self that we see as he struggles to meld past and present, reality and imagination, classical art and abstraction, into a new amalgam that he can call his own. It is a struggle every serious contemporary realist faces sooner or later, and Winslow has now gone public with his.
To put all this across stylistically, the classically trained Winslow has broken out of "the Renaissance box," as he puts it, abandoning the single point of view and setting images afloat, often dissolving them into transparent layers of planar, abstract space. "Italy Redrafted" is a signature piece in which he looks out at a Tuscan landscape and literally dissolves classical buildings into Cubist passages, a fitting metaphor for his desire to recast Renaissance canons into a modern vernacular.
These paintings represent, says the artist, "a dream I have of breaking through the constrictive boundaries of Renaissance space and localized color to a world where the elements of painting, color and line are not always anchored to the forms they depict and anything can happen."
But they are also art about making art, as is especially clear in "The Painter's Dream: Women in Pictures," wherein the artist stares at his own drawing of a nude female figure, as a woman straight out of Manet sits beside him, and the mask-like face of Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein levitates nearby. "Think of the precedents, and the competition!" these paintings seem to wail. Painting isn't easy for artists who think, and who know what's gone before, and Winslow's show emphatically makes that point.
If the paintings don't always work -- and they don't -- it is no wonder, given the fact that they represent an artist in the experimental throes, seeking not only new forms, but also new content. A few of the paintings are a muddle, while others are provocative, including the huge, two-panel piece titled "Medieval Masters and Modern Optics," which survives despite its too-obvious bow to Salle, whose influence runs deep in this show.
Whether Winslow continues to pursue this particular tack or not, both the artist and his art are bound to be refreshed by this adventure. Winslow's show will continue through Feb. 15 at 1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Buechner Oils at Addison/Ripley
Tradition reigns unquestioned in the current show at Addison/Ripley Gallery, where 41 small oils with a distinctly dark, old-master look are on view. The artist is Thomas S. Buechner, better known as former director of the Corning Museum of Glass and the Brooklyn Museum. Though still a vice president at Corning, Buechner takes off part of every year to paint -- sometimes still lifes and portraits, sometimes landscapes observed from the window of his home in upstate New York, or in Colorado or Pennsylvania.
In this show, his recent landscapes (excepting one tiny view of Addison, Colo.) are the least satisfying works, especially when they depart from the small format. Apart from his striking commissioned portraits, with their genteel, turn-of-the-century look, Buechner is at his consistent best in his small still-life paintings of food, such as "One Egg," set among four potatoes against a dark brown background, or the delightful, feathery "Frantic Fennel."
Buechner's paintings will be on view through Feb. 8. Addison/Ripley is at 9 Hillyer Ct. NW, where hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.