PETER MILTON, virtuoso printmaker, has recently been turning out exactly one print a year. He spends several months just on the preliminary drawing. And this year's "Interiors IV: Hotel Paradise Cafe," at the Bader Gallery, is an extraordinary combination of etching and engraving, worth every bit of the effort.
Lately he has been building fascinating rooms -- interiors, and by extension, interiors of the people who occupy them. The ambiguity of the myriad images he chooses just adds to the viewer's enjoyment.
The focal point of this print is a flapper in a furry sweater, staring out the window of a hotel cafe. Doleful and bored, she reflects; the room is filled with reflections, not just hers. Outside the window a flyboy in aviator glasses is loitering and a worried-looking woman is walking her little dogs, which pull their leashes in opposite directions. She catches the eye of two businessmen in the hotel lobby. And: hungry dogs prowl. Ballroom dancers' feet don't touch the floor. A couple argues. A dirigible flies past.
All is not as it seems -- if in fact this all could be digested, which it can't. These people are literally fading into the woodwork. The businessmen's legs look shaky. Even the flapper, who is most real, is melting as her sweater unravels into the air.
The wonderful graininess Milton achieves in his print gives not just texture to marble walls but a spectral quality to light fixtures, and an overall evanescence to people, places and things. Time is out of kilter; ranging over decades, Milton's images seem new but many are copied from old photographs -- ballet images from Kertesz's photographs, a historic shot of "the fifth rigid dirigible belonging to Count Zeppelin."
His work looks deceptively photographic, precise to the infinitesimal detail, but in fact he draws first on transparent film, then transfers the image to a copper plate coated with photosensitive material.
Milton's three previous "Interiors" are just as wondrously ambiguous -- it is as if the people were ghosts and the furniture were alive, consuming.
This theme he explored a bit in 1971 when his illustrations accompanying Henry James' "The Jolly Corner" were first published. This is a little-known short story about a man whose boyhood home is haunted by his alter ego -- the person he might have been. Selections from that portfolio are also displayed here -- but in retrospect seem like humble beginnings of something far more complex and rewarding.
Milton performs his painstaking, consummate craft in southern New Hampshire, but because he taught in the '60s at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, is considered something of a local here.
You wouldn't want to pose for Robert Marx, whose paintings are also at the Bader Gallery. But portraits are not what he is about. His faces are all the same -- bizarre, not quite sane, wraithlike. A toned-down version of the faces Francis Bacon painted, but projecting the same alienation. Reddish-brown skin, long noses, sockets for eyes, they, the victims, stand slump-shouldered and diffident with arms behind their backs.
In Marx's larger works, he paints priest and prefect -- victimizers, the failure of authority. These larger works are difficult, and so we look for clues. One title confirms the message: "Every time we ask the lord for a fish, he gives us a serpent."
Marx is daring in his composition. With some of the small, single figures, the top of the head hits only midline in the canvas -- underscoring the feeling of oppression. And he surrounds his figures with a lot of dead space and neutral paint. It creates a balance, and it makes the figures stand out to confront the viewer. This way, you meet each one.
Stanley Bleifeld's "Lone Sailor," a seven-foot bronze sculpture, is about to be unveiled on Tuesday at Market Square, across from the National Archives. Meanwhile, smaller bronzes of the sailor are on display at the Bader Gallery, along with a series of bronze waves to go with them. Earlier work by Bleifeld consists of vignettes -- men, dogs and horses inundated in The Flood or crossing the Red Sea. In "Landscape with Fisherman," a grotto dwarfs the tiny figure, and, in spite of its minuscule size, Bleifeld manages to reflect the fisherman's dejection. Bleifeld's figures emerge from the matrix of the bronze in the way of Rodin's figures in "The Gates of Hell." In recent wall reliefs of waves, he continues to explore his fascination with the sea, and to good artistic effect.
The work of Stanley Bleifeld, Robert Marx and Peter Milton will be at the Bader Gallery, 1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, through October 24. Gallery hours are 10 to 6, Tuesday through Saturday.
Warning: artist at play. In his current show of drawings and collages, local artist Carroll Sockwell has dalliances with charcoal and chalk that are chaotic but with an undercurrent of patterning -- falling T-squares, arcs, dividing lines stolen from roads. They form lines of energy in these mainly gray drawings. Almost everything in the show was done this year, but an earlier work, "Snake Charmer," 1975, has held up very well; its tortuous calligraphy winds its way through bright patches of brushstrokes. "House of Numbers," a collage done this year, holds its own as well. The numbers come from bits of rulers, tape measures and a license plate. Things come apart like a house of cards, and the worm-like nails eat their way through this artful agglomeration of found art. Through October 26 at the Pavilion of Fine Arts, Montgomery College, Takoma Park Campus, Fenton and New York avenues, Takoma Park. Hours, weekdays 8:30 to 4:30.