"Passages: Monotypes by Pauline Jakobsberg" is the autobiography of a frump. Jakobsberg sees herself as a lumpy matron in rumpled camping shorts and sandals. But so that we understand she isn't really like this, she has donned as well a bird mask with a beak of mythic proportions. This may or may not be Freudian.
Jakobsberg is using this series, being shown at the Washington Printmakers Gallery, as an introspective exploration of her life as an artist and what has kept her from it. These black-and-white prints are a departure from her pretty, painterly park scenes; they are all monotypes -- generally one-of-a-kind, drawn directly on the metal or glass plate and then printed on wet paper in a press. Monotypes are luminous, with the underlying paper showing through. In this case, the glow is almost ghostly. This, along with Jakobsberg's fluidity of line, adds a great deal of interest to the work. Her style is cartoonlike, but sensitive -- an intriguing combination.
In Jakobsberg's personal diary of a mad housewife, she works through her wedding -- the husband as chicken hawk, the artist as a dog with cow eyes. But shortly there comes her transformation into bird woman. In "Eating Has Become My Favorite Pastime," she seems about to rise like a mother hen to tend to her brood. Sitting among her anthropomorphic cronies, she discovers "A Common Bond": they all have clawlike toenails and grotesque masks. "My Many Disguises" is a close-up of the bird head, with its impassive, all-seeing, yet unknowing, eye.
In total, the show makes a feminist statement that is masked only slightly, but sufficiently to give it subtlety.
Her single-figure images -- the bird woman in a situation -- are the strongest, but tend to be static. Jakobsberg would do well to avoid the sentimentality inherent in "The Never-Ending Climb." Picturing the pilgrim bird-woman's progress toward a crossroads, the onward-and-upward statement is a bit trite, and the image forced.
"Passages: Monotypes by Pauline Jakobsberg" will be at the Washington Printmakers Gallery, 2106 R St. NW, through Sept. 26. This is a new location for the gallery, which moved from Jefferson Place in May. It's open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Robert D'Arista at Circle
Robert D'Arista knows his own facial expressions so intimately that his self-portraits are self-mocking. His disembodied heads resting at improbable angles are the best of his recent paintings on display at the Circle Gallery. One of them is the artist as Holofernes, the general of Nebuchadnezzar's army, done in the color of blood.
Other works are the color of sand. D'Arista -- who taught painting at American University for 20 years and now teaches at Boston University -- takes small canvases to the beach and attaches them to a clipboard. He makes intimate notations of the bathers and sun worshipers -- the curve of a shoulder, an amorphous bathing suit.
His work is done in a spontaneous way, a sort of slapdash method in the best sense. Some of the paintings are just a crumple of gestural lines that appear abstract but on closer inspection give up a reclining figure. Others -- one of a couple walking in the woods, another of a corner of a warm bedroom -- are done in thicker impasto, but still in a spare style.
The works are untitled, and this starts one wondering if titles can sometimes get between the viewer and the work, by overdefining things. And names might overwhelm small, unpretentious paintings such as these.
"Robert D'Arista: Recent Work" will be at the Circle Gallery, 3232 P St. NW, through September. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.