Ce'zanne is given credit for describing color as the place where "mind and the universe meet." It's a credo Theodore Adamstein, South African-born architect-turned-photographer, might agree with. Working with a palette of deep blues and ultramarines with touches of green and pink and an occasional umber and gold, Adamstein concentrates on marine landscapes that at their best hover on the cusp between the primal elements -- earth, sky and water -- and the stuff of myth, memory and dreams.
The mediator of that interface between place and spirit is "the found object" -- pools, ramps, boulders, plastic bags -- all evidence of the hand of man in elemental landscapes.
The most successful of Adamstein's mediators are submerged ramps -- their presence beneath vast pools of water gives the scenes, immersed in the deep greenish blues of dusk, a mysterious balance of imagination and reality. Other images with this quality are two beautiful "rock" landscapes and a wall glowing with a late evening light that seems a distillation of the Mediterranean (place isn't important in these photographs, but because they are photographs, it can't help coming through sometimes).
However, a number of Adamstein's landscapes remain earthbound because of the literalness of the objects depicted. Still others fall short of the transcendence their maker intends because they're overly pretty, or too facile, or both. And in some of the earliest pictures in the series -- which began in 1982 and is continuing -- visible film grain in the print hangs like a veil between the viewer and perception.
Adamstein's landscapes can be seen at the Martin Gallery, 2427 18th St. NW, until Feb. 18. 'Five French Artists'
Claude Gaujard, formerly with the National Gallery, has opened a pleasant, salon-style gallery near Dupont Circle (1426 21st St. NW) with the avowed aim of bringing the "best of European art to Washington."
Based on the evidence of her current exhibit, "Five French Artists," Gaujard's preference is for art that is tasteful and civilized but also somewhat predictable and academic. It's art that interests you when you see it in someone's living room but disappoints in a gallery, where, if you're not expecting to be shocked, at least you'd like to be surprised.
The artist who makes the most definitive statement of the five is Louis Montagne, a minor watercolorist of some reputation in France who'd be better known in this country if it weren't for the long shadow of Ce'zanne. Montagne's watercolors, painted in the '50s, suggest the landscape of Provence with just the right economy of line and transparency of color, all after the manner of the master of Aix-en-Provence.
The other artist to note, although he's more a curiosity than anything else, is Jacques Leroux, a painter in his sixties from Nice, who takes old manuscripts -- humble scraps of quotidian history such as an 18th-century French salt merchant's bill or a 19th-century notary's letter -- and paints on them motifs from pre-Columbian and Egyptian civilizations, using original hand-ground color formulas from those ancient epochs.
Unfortunately, the description is probably more interesting than the art. Despite the research that went into the making of these gaudy paintings, I didn't find the montage of history, time and art to be very convincing. Leroux's overlays of Egyptian and Mayan motifs, so thick as to seem enameled, are more decorative than evocative and in almost every case smother the whiff of the past given off by the faded manuscripts.
"Five French Artists" closes March 3. 'Photographs From Lorton'
"Inside Out: Photographs From Lorton," on view until Feb. 22 at the Firebird gallery, 814 N. St. Asaph St. in Alexandria, is an unpretentious show that simply and affectingly gives us a documentary portrait of a male society-within-a-society.
If the work is sometimes tentative that's because it's student work, the result of a class called Lorton Photography Workshop, which is in its fifth year. Thus, the photography is not so much work of individual vision as it is a collective body of images reflecting the tastes and inclinations (the idea of the photograph as a social document) of those responsible for the class and the show -- namely the teacher of the Lorton Photography Workshop, Karen Ruckman, a photojournalist by training, and the curator of the exhibition, Roland Freeman, well known for his humanist documentary work.
Life within the walls, these photographs reveal, is in many ways a microcosm of life without the walls. On the whole these pictures are noncommittal records of prison life in which men watch TV, play music, entertain visitors and show off their muscles.
But there are a number of photographs that rise above conveying information. Sidney Davis, Calvin Gorham, Chris Keller and Larry Pringle contribute strong images that speak without sentimentality of male pride and the loneliness of institutional life.
Among the photographers there is one whose work seems to promise an individual vision. He is Michael Moses El, recently released from Lorton. Moses El's lean, muscular photographs hint at a deeper, darker level of prison existence. His picture of a transvestite gives the only glimpse of prison sexuality in the show. Another of his compelling photographs shows a man lying on a bunk -- from his chest, like a flight of ascending airplanes, rises a collection of snapshots on the opposite wall.