In its 23rd annual group show, the Mickelson Gallery is trotting out something for everyone -- what sells, what would work on a particular wall over the sofa, the typical landscapes, the seascapes and the mantelpiece-size bronzes. But a few of the artists here introduce an element of the unexpected.
Thomas Yerxa's paintings are intentionally unfinished, though from a distance they seem complete. His "City's Children" is a psychologically charged moment, where a little blond girl in a yuppie leotard stands on steps by a wall full of nonsense graffiti, in the heat of the afternoon. She watches a black boy holding his little brother's hand as they walk away. Perhaps she has sent them away. The wall splits the painting and underscores her isolation. The human figures are finished, but the architectural features aren't, as if to say that this is happening on a stage, and though you may share the feeling, it isn't real. The unfinished details are reminders of the artist's presence.
There are some very competent watercolors by Florence May Cichocki. In "Relieves Fatigue," she shows a Coca-Cola logo fading on the side of a building, with delicate renderings of each brick, and in "First Freeze," she masses autumn leaves under a fine glaze that adds a layer of abstraction to the work with its bubbles and striations. Her themes are conventional, with a touch of personal enchantment. And Rosalyn Richards' "Unfinished Freeway in California" is a perfectly serious painting of a banal subject that is inherently ironic -- levels upon levels of freeway leading nowhere, like so much piled-up track in a child's train set.
Many of the bronzes here, though made in a traditional mold, have a touch of magic to them. In Mervine Chianelli's mysterious bronze "Dreamers," the man and woman have curled bronze leaves for bodies, and one leaf cradles the other. This gentle piece contrasts with her regimented "Next!" -- a lineup of naked Giacometti-like bronze men, prisoners trudging, one hand on the shoulder of the man in front. And James Santens' soapstone figures -- mottled brown, earthy, silken smooth -- present an interesting combination: They're what would happen if an Eskimo carver met a Henry Moore.
The enameled bronze sculptures by Warren Joseph Smith -- partial views of people inside an architectural form of some sort -- are among the best in the show and would work the least well in the living room. "The Tower" is Kafkaesque -- a menacing man in a business suit stands in the window of a tall column. A woman is either prisoner or princess in "The Attic." She looks out a window in a pediment that is made to hang on the wall. The shape is entirely houselike, but when you get to the bottom of it, the graying white paint wears thin, becomes cloudy, then disappears into the bronze base. It's a very effective illusion.
The 23rd annual group show will be at the Mickelson Gallery, 707 G St. NW, through Oct. 3. Gallery hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
James Tanner's Ceramics at Littleton
Ceramic artist James Tanner is the man behind the masks at the Maurine Littleton Gallery in Georgetown. He's apparently not content to make things that are merely attractive, though the first thing you notice about his wall reliefs is their glistening top layer. He gets down to the surface of things with colorful splatters and bobbles, layer upon layer of glaze that crackles and puckers. And somewhere underneath it all is a face.
"Pope Saturn" is a street dude, under the layers of dribbled glaze, a mug pockmarked with the artist's own paisley version of mosaic, a mask with flat nose, beady green eyes, a mole and pointy teeth. Tanner used to be a painter and a glassmaker and as soon as you see the quality of the heavy glaze, that becomes clear.
For all their surface irregularity, the pieces hang squarely on the wall like portraits or mug shots -- or mirrors. Some resemble finely crafted African masks, while others are ghoulish agglomerations, like the demonic "Smiling Mercenary," with his uneven lizard eyes, crooked nose and missing teeth.
Knobby, streaked, free-standing pieces that Tanner made this year are small-scale towering infernos of color. They are not as powerful as the masks; some resemble gingerbread houses or the old woman's shoe from the fairy tale. But another direction Tanner has taken recently is more open-ended. In the tragicomic "Who Says What?" Tanner has added another player. This double mask concerns a man and a woman and whatever has gone between them, and you. And so the interactions are becoming layered, like the surfaces of the work.
"James Tanner: State of Being" will be at Maurine Littleton Gallery, 3222 N St. NW, through Sept. 12. Gallery hours: noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.