PETER CHARLES' sculptures from the past 10 years, displayed at Baumgartner Galleries, show versatility and verve and the influence of things Japanese. He fashions screens, he uses lacquer, and overall there is an oriental simplicity to his work.
In his earlier sculptures, Charles combines rugged planks with more refined materials -- polished steel and lacquered wood -- to make strong new statements of rustic elegance. He joins country and city, primitive and Art Deco. One discovers the diverse elements bit by bit: A vertically placed girder, an urban fixture, forms the backbone of "Tall Burgundy Piece with Stick and Stone." A stick appears to prop it up; a small piece of wood penetrates it. And the whole sculpture stands on a lacquered box base against which is tucked a small rough stone.
Charles, who teaches at Georgetown University, has recently been focusing on altar-like pieces; on pedestals, he places burnished vessels that call to mind bronzes from ancient China or silvered vessels from the future. And there is always some off-centeredness to the sculptures -- Japanese flower arranging in walnut and steel.
His "Selected Works, 1977-87" will be at Baumgartner Galleries, 2016 R Street NW, through November 28. Hours are 11 to 6, Tuesday through Saturday.
Robert Motherwell's "Selected Graphics," at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, sounds a haunting reprise of familiar themes from his paintings. The energetic, emotive splotches of this philosopher-painter run or seep or jump across the paper, or mass in the middle. The black forms on a white background -- he's one of the few abstract expressionists to admit to symbolism -- are death and life, polarity and paradox. Here, in "Summertime in Italy (with Blue)" the colors speak of a joyous sea and sky. The central form is: a question mark, a nervous quizzical shape, an elbow, a fractured modernist form, a gently folded peaceful gesture.
Thirteen prints are not enough to show the entire range of Motherwell moods, but they are certainly enough to inspire his fans. Included here are some prints from the "Elegy" series and a few from the "Automatism" series. One combining them both pairs dense calligraphic strokes with loose lines plumbed from the subconscious. Motherwell made this print shortly after completing "Reconciliation Elegy" for the National Gallery of Art.
Motherwell's personal repertoire of shapes is just as dynamic in prints as in paintings. The internal rhythm is duplicated, if only on a smaller scale. Prints came about for Motherwell when he encountered a fallow period after his show in the mid-'60s at the Museum of Modern Art. Describing himself as suffering from "an almost metaphysical loneliness," he welcomed the chance to collaborate with printers. Since then, he has produced more than 200 different images in prints. In all, they are probings into the nature of reality, entirely appropriate for an artist who holds degrees in philosophy, as well as the title of master of abstraction.
Motherwell's prints will be displayed at Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R Street NW, through November 28. Gallery hours are 11 to 5 Wednesday through Saturday.
It gets harder and harder to find quality things nowadays. It's especially difficult in the case of Adams Davidson Galleries, which deals mainly in 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Most of the artists have died, their work possibly ending up in museums, or languishing unappreciated or even lost somewhere.
For the gallery, "finding" things is a little like Columbus' "discovering" America, but one of its recent finds, exhibited in the "Diversities and Discoveries" show, is a beautiful landscape by American impressionist Childe Hassam. Painted in 1895, "Down the Steps, Central Park" has been in a private collection locally, and this is only the second time it has been exhibited. This painting of mother and child flickers with patterns of light and shows a certain affection unusual in Hassam's work..
Here also is a lovely, soft-toned painting he did while in Paris of the Champs Elysees; the perspective reminds one of another impressionist's work, Gustave Caillebotte, in "The Floor Scrapers." Hassam's painting also depicts everyday people doing everyday work -- here, a street sweeper, who is rearranging the painter's accents of aquamarine with his broom.
Another painting in the show, a snowy, flag-filled street scene, looks like Hassam's work too. But actually it's by Guy Wiggins, who apparently got the idea from Hassam and, in the '20s, turned out Manhattan snow scenes like hotcakes. Needless to say, they were not as good. Other work displayed here ranges from a somewhat primitive Hudson River School painting to a modern study of Andy Warhol by Jamie Wyeth.
According to gallery owner Ted Cooper, many art works recently have come to them because the value of the picture has climbed so high that its owner can no longer afford to insure it. This, however, was not the case for William Stanley Haseltine's painting, "Rocks at Narragansett, R.I.," c. 1863. This bright seascape about powerful forces asleep in nature was found and rescued by a friend of Cooper's -- who spotted it in a trash can in front of his apartment building.
"Diversities and Discoveries" will be on view at Adams Davidson Galleries through December 10. Hours are 10 to 5 Tuesday through Friday and noon to 6 on Saturday.