At Jane Haslem Gallery, Rumpelstiltskin and the Ugly Duckling now adorn walls that more often display drawings of nudes. Call it regression, call it a return to childhood, but these "Children's Book Illustrations" are more than just pricey decorations for the kids' room.
Though it would be hard to match the heroic paintings of N.C. Wyeth, all the paintings and prints here meet the obvious criteria for picture book illustrations -- that they be clear and attractive. Beyond that, one far outshines the rest: Paul Zelinsky's "Rumpelstiltskin." You may not be a kid anymore, but you'd really have to be jaded not to find this suite of works enchanting.
Zelinsky captures childhood's place -- in the fairyland of cliffs and dells that rears up in the distance, or in a deep dark woods of the sort where Maurice Sendak, another great, would set his wild things roaming.
This Rumpelstiltskin is an absurd little man with googly eyes, witchy nose and cardinal's hat. This is supposed to be the artist's self-portrait, but it's doubtful Zelinsky could be that gnomelike. Rumpelstiltskin's knobby little fingers spin straw into gold so that the miller's daughter can marry the king. Zelinsky performs magic himself, starting first with watercolor, then acrylic medium, then oil. He scratches the surface to make the textures of straw and gold, a rather magnificent feat in itself.
The artist's attention to detail, in burnished crowns and bejeweled gowns, stained glass windows, gothic arches and tapestries, reminds one of another sort of book illustration -- the illuminated manuscript. Zelinsky's work is that good.
Curated by Phyllis Sidorsky, a librarian at National Cathedral School, "Children's Book Illustrations" is at Haslem Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through Dec. 5. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Naley and Gudmundson at Ewing
"Stay in North Dakota. Custer was healthy when he left," calls the sign from the green hillock. With patchwork farms, golden grain and fields of plenty, the picture of North Dakota -- in two shows now at the Ewing Gallery -- is romantic-rural. Even the sterile granaries beckon.
Both shows -- by David Naley, an Alexandria photographer, and Wayne Gudmundson, a North Dakotan -- are straightforward landscape photography, no pulled punches, no split lenses, not even particularly wide-angle lenses. Though the subject is the same, the difference lies in the view of the native and the non-native.
Naley sees the state with the fresh eye of a tourist -- silver granaries seem as strange to him as the scored face of a "Badlands Rock Monster." His color photos show his enthusiasm for sunset at a bend of the Little Missouri and for sunflowers and how astonishingly evenly they grow in height.
Gudmundson has seen all this and gone beyond it. He has a playful eye. His photos demonstrate an affection for the place -- how flat the fields are, how useless a farm looks covered with snow, how like disturbed gnats is a flurry of birds above the barns. Toying with a long road, Gudmundson turns the landscape into an abstraction; the Little Missouri is his "gesture." His black-and-white photo of a cornfield after snow is like one of photographer Harry Callahan's stark compositions, and meanders in the emotional register somewhere between desolate and funny.
Obviously the two photographers show only part of the picture. For those wishing to know more about North Dakota, the gallery is intermittently showing a documentary film by Wayne Ewing, the gallery owner's brother, on the state of the state. "North Dakota" is at the Kathleen Ewing Gallery, 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW, through Thursday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Lewis at Walker, Ursitti & McGinniss
When George D. Lewis draws, there's music to it, and his current show at Walker, Ursitti & McGinniss Gallery is "Scherzo." That, for nonmusic majors, means a sprightly, humorous musical work done in quick triple time. That appears to be the direction Lewis is taking, and he may just get there.
His "Horse Musicians on Horseback" gallops frenetically. His "Neurocellist," neurotic, eccentric and dour in a tuxedo, shakes the bow and makes his corner of the room vibrate anxiously with sound. The performers in the "Underground Funk Opera" bring to mind the attenuated figures of Lionel Feininger -- Cyndi Lauper meets the German expressionists, and they howl.
Lewis, a local artist, is himself a musician, playing piano and keyboards, and that explains all the baby grands and uprights in the show. These ordinary images, seen from above, could have no more artistic interest than pages of sheet music. But Lewis slashes the pianos with the irony of angry pastels -- his own personal cacophonous notes.
At 457 M St. NW, through Dec. 5. Hours are noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Peter Goin at Martin
Peter Goin has spent the past three years on the borderline -- photographing places with names like Tortilla Curtain, Smugglers' Gulch and Dead Man's Valley.
In his show at the Martin Gallery, "Tracing the Line: A Photographic Survey of the Mexican-American Border," he presents a desolate picture. The line doesn't pose for anyone. On either side of it lies a no man's land: desert, forgotten cemeteries and the occasional abandoned pump station -- a rest stop for "undocumented workers" entering the United States. Only the capricious Rio Grande, with its changing riverbed, has dominion over the line.
Goin, who lives in Nevada, walks in the footsteps of 19th-century frontier photographers -- like Carleton Watkins, whose camera conquered Yosemite, or William Henry Jackson, who photographed, for the U.S. Geological Survey, the future Yellowstone Park.
They found magnificent panoramas of wilderness. Goin just found wilderness, marked every few miles with border "monuments." The early photographers weren't interested in making art; neither is Goin. They captured grandeur in their photos; Goin's photographs are often dull, notable mainly as a document of the line. The border is the setting for so much human drama. But if seen without labels, his pictures would be little more than black and whites of fences -- chain link, concertina wire, split rail.
Human presence defines the land, but the people are missing here. This notion was carried out to good effect by Paul Graham with his "Troubled Land" series on the "social landscape" of Northern Ireland (a few of these pictures are displayed in the Corcoran's current "Spectrum" show). But in Goin's case, one can't help wondering what pictures he would have made if the Border Patrol hadn't been his escort.
At 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW, through Thursday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.