Some paintings you see with your eyes, others with your mind; it's the perceptual versus the conceptual. Canadian artist Pierre Dorion's deliberately sketchy allegories at the Jack Shainman Gallery definitely lean toward the latter, despite their authoritative visual presence. It's a presence defined by the dry, textured brush strokes, almost more plastering than painting; by the colors, pale, with flecks of gold and white; and by the sculptural frames, patterned in a primitive motif.
Inside the frames, which are both distancing devices and the visual equivalent of quotation marks, Dorion explores the unlikely (at least in Adams-Morgan in the latter half of the 20th century) world of the Barbizon painters, those 19th-century French open-air landscape painters who were the forerunners of the impressionists.
Dorion says he adopted the Barbizon "style" to explore the "romantic dialogue between the spectator and nature." But don't come to this work expecting a Wagnerian crescendo. This isn't romantic art; it's art about romanticism. It's the artist contemplating the process of being an artist.
This kind of self-examination is often self-indulgent, but in Dorion's hands the themes, dry and obscure though they may be, shine with an intelligence that is a pleasure to experience even if clarity isn't always an accompaniment.
For instance, what are we to make of Anne Boleyn looking out a window splashed with sunlight, or a one-legged soldier heroically aloof in front of a sketchy crowd? These enigmas remind me less of art history and more of those fugitive and anonymous illustrations that make impressions on us during childhood. An image on a kitchen tile, an anonymous steel engraving, a dusty photograph in a hallway, unseen by everyone but the child -- they're icons that take on implications more involved with memory than appearance.
So it is with Pierre Dorion's work. After I had left the gallery, Dorion's allegories, originally intellectual puzzles, had taken on the character and mystery of long-buried visual memories.
Jack Shainman Gallery, 2443 18th St. NW, is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Pierre Dorion's work will be on view until June 1. Berkowitz at Baumgartner's
Leon Berkowitz paints for the eye, not the mind. His paintings are pure perception, and unlike Dorion's art, which grows more complex in the remembering, Berkowitz's poetic creations work their spell best when you're standing directly in front of them, experiencing them in real time, so to speak.
There aren't any surprises in Berkowitz's new show at Baumgartner's. Or perhaps it is surprising (and satisfying) that a veteran artist like Leon Berkowitz -- a man who as a teacher and artist has been an integral part of Washington's art world for 25 years or more -- is still discovering viable possibilities in the color abstract work he began in the late '60s.
That work, now as then, is concerned with light-as-color rendered with repeated applications of the thinnest of oil washes until its hues are as ineffably subtle and luminous as the source of light itself. To experience a successful Berkowitz painting is to immerse yourself in a trembling, shimmering universe of indistinct spheres that advance and recede through an illusionary array of the primary colors and their complementaries -- palest yellow to near garish magenta to cool green and the iciest of blues.
To my mind, the most successful paintings in Berkowitz's new show, "Algonquit," are the ones devoted to a favorite form: that of paired spheres, one above the other, such as "Midday Moon No. 12," in which glowing globules of light well forth from liquid seas of color as they hover in a misty space that seems a foot or two in front of the canvas surface.
The Baumgartner Gallery, 2016 R St. NW, is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Leon Berkowitz's show closes May 31. William Abranowicz's Photographs
Photographer George Tice is noted for his impeccable craftsmanship and urban landscapes, principally his incisive and somewhat mordant views of Paterson, N.J. Photographer William Abranowicz is noted for the same things, but unfortunately he is almost indistinguishable from Tice, which is not surprising as he served as Tice's printer for a number of years.
In other words, Abranowicz, currently showing at the Martin Gallery, is a photographer in search of an identity. It must be acknowledged that the path of that search is strewn with many a gem. You won't find an original style here, but you will find superb examples of printmaking, particularly when it comes to rendering darks: Abranowicz is a master at printing the shades of night.
Now and then there's a splendid photograph too, one in which craft and content seem inseparable. For example, the universal moment beautifully captured in "Fourth of July, Jersey City, N.J. 1985": It's that moment when time as well as your heart seems to stop as the summer night is opened up by fireworks.
display through May 24 at the Martin Gallery, 2427 18th St. NW. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.