SOME ARTISTS are content to explore the sensuousness of color and texture. Subject, if it exists at all, is way down the list of what they're about. Here are four such artists -- three of them local, one formerly local.
The work of both Lyndia Terre and Ruth Cahnmann teeters on the brink of abstraction. The titles for Terre's work have a familiar ring -- "Snowstorm, Alexandria, Va.," or "Hydrilla and Kudzu: the Potomac." But her work only suggests a locale. Her distinctive, pretty pastel-colored scenes are scored with repeated scratches and scrapes by the wrong end of the brush. The paintings appear to be swept by a strong wind blowing from just somewhere.
In combining pastel and acrylic, Terre isn't afraid to use pink and yellow and this can get out of control, a bit saccharine. And, in a painting of a tree close up, she masses the tree into clumsy sticks. But it all comes together in "Regimented Forest." Yellow appears in the shadows and pink, under the trees. While the rows of trees bring to mind the Tuileries, it's clear that Terre means to overwhelm with repetition of forms, and she does, very effectively.
Terre's work is being displayed through October 10 at Zygos Gallery, which usually displays the work of Greek artists but is making an exception. The gallery, at 403 Seventh St. NW is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:30 to 5:30, and Sunday noon to 5.
Ruth Cahnmann's series, "Divisions," now on view at the Studio Gallery, represents an evolution toward abstraction from her previous work. She shares Matisse's fascination for windows; her previous series studied still-lifes on windowsills. Now she has stepped back and blurred things, painting windows on windows with windows. Her "divisions" are sections of varied brushmarks and hue -- flecks, fluid fingerprints, spirals or worms -- interesting effects. The colors are harmonic -- a line of hot pink, a speckling of cerulean, projecting the rich warmth of an August afternoon, or the subtle coolness of an interior. All this is enhanced by her choice of Japanese paper: It gives the work a pleasant glow and admits diffused light, like a window itself.
"Divisions" will be at the Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW, through October 3. Hours are 11 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday.
Ann Purcell's paintings at Osuna Gallery are pure abstractions -- Jackson Pollock paint drips accented with the occasional rugged brushstroke of a Franz Kline. Her splashes, drips, slaps and slashes of thick paint have a frenetic quality to them, pure energy let loose. The texture is nubby, thick with paint, and sometimes she uses metallic paints that add interest and sparkle, when, for example, the green-blue catches the light, like a fish seen briefly in water.
The sensuous, heavily textured surfaces project a sort of presence. One of her "Kali Poems," as they are called, is white overall, as if the sun has blinded you, and left spots before your eyes -- those violent strokes in the center of the painting. The "Kali Poems," as a series, establish a rhythm difficult to achieve in a single painting. The name comes from the artist's favorite poem: Help us to be the always hopeful / Gardeners of the spirit / Who know that without darkness / Nothing Comes to Birth / As Without Light / Nothing Flowers.
Purcell's paintings do seem to express the idea of yin and yang holding each other at bay. But there's little calming or meditative about the work.
Purcell, a former Washingtonian who now lives in New York, will have her work displayed at Osuna Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through October 17. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 5.
For some it is difficult to go toward abstraction without waxing cosmic. In her geometrical constructions at Winston Gallery, Caroline Orner takes mystical symbols and softens them so that they may be perceived on a subliminal -- and universal -- level. Her method is to cut museum board into triangles, circles and stars, and glue them onto large, rectangular canvases. Then she paints, transforming these forms into pyramids, suns and stars of David. The background is done in mottled earthtones, the religious symbols often accented in gold.
The paintings are all appropriately symmetrical; for some she has borrowed directly from church architecture -- Gothic arches and hints of stained-glass windows. Smaller ones look like Byzantine icons. She seems to be trying too hard to vary the forms and so doesn't achieve unity -- as in, for example, Barnett Newman's "The Stations of the Cross," owned by the National Gallery of Art. Beyond that, Orner fails to elicit the feeling in the viewer of being in touch with anything eternal.
Carolyn Orner's recent paintings will be displayed through October 10 at the Winston Gallery, 1204 31st St. NW. Hours are 10 to 6, Tuesday through Saturday.