REALIST ARTISTS tend to concern themselves at times with the really obvious -- their studios, that is. Local artist David Zuccarini is no exception. His engaging paintings, the best of the lot in "American Realists II" at the Foxhall Gallery, travel all the familiar territory of the painter -- or do they?
You'd be hard pressed to find a paintbrush, though among his artist's icons there is a bottle of linseed oil. Slide packs, a dress model form, a portfolio -- things that potentially an artist could use. Then he includes things you have to think about -- a flared pink conch shell, a brick. And there are far too many jointed wooden dolls here: one to figure anatomy by and the rest to obsess on.
In Zuccarini's "Studio Mirror," a double self-portrait, one of those faceless little mannequins seems most alive, moving an arm out of the picture plane, as the artist pauses to reflect on himself. How utterly involving is the study of one's face: Plaster forms of an ear, nose, mouth and eye surround the mirror. It's a difficult composition, but one Zuccarini tackles handily.
In other works, he makes subtle but still readable statements. "Flowers" shows a still life he has set up in the studio. But on the easel in the foreground rests an incipient painting of flowers that aren't even the same varieties. It's also interesting that when he paints a nude model in his studio, she's just part of the environment (and the shape of her big toe is echoed elsewhere around the room, in a footstool and in the heads of those bizarre, jointed dolls).
In addition to his studio paintings, even his small still lifes combine the unexpected, such as a sea urchin and an oriental rug, at an odd angle.
The Phillips Collection has a long tradition of hiring artists and then showcasing their work in an annual holiday exhibit. Only one problem: This year the usual exhibit hall, the Phillips' Annex, is gutted for renovation work, so the collection has had to look for another place.
That decision was kept in the family, too. The show is at the Susan Conway Gallery, which a former Phillips conservator has just opened on the C&O Canal in Georgetown.
Forty-four artists are participating. All but two still work at the Phillips, comprising half the staff. Their jobs range from chairman of the curatorial department to bookstore clerk to Sunday afternoon gallery guard. Looking at this show, one wonders how much the artist/guards, sitting quietly in their galleries, are subconsciously influenced by a particular painting -- a Renoir boating party or a Bonnard open window.
If anything, the light touch of John Marin and the simplified forms of Arthur Dove resonate here. Carol Adelman's "Duncan Phillips Was a Patron of the Arts . . . " has borrowed from one of Phillips' "discoveries." Her very pleasing abstract rendition of a desk set is reminiscent of Dove's controlled suggestion of subject matter.
Suzanne Wright's precise drawing, "Study in Sanguine," superficially seems to be a steer-skull homage to Georgia O'Keeffe, who is also represented in the Collection. But Wright's title for the drawing rings true: She mingles the colors of rust and dried blood. Her placement of the skull is nicely off-centered, making the work just that much more disturbing.
It may be stretching it to say that Maura Doern's sketchy self-portrait resembles El Greco's "The Repentant Peter," another Phillips holding -- yet Doern does capture a hint of agony in herself.
As might be expected, some of the artists here aren't as successful in their attempts -- there is a too-sweet cozy cat, and an ugly rather than nicely grotesque "Salsa Ballerina" of wire and cloth, which dangles in the gallery window. But these are exceptions, in a surprisingly varied and deep show.
Everyone joins in for the exhibit -- including, of course, artist (and Phillips curatorial consultant) Willem de Looper, and the new curatorial chairman, Sir Lawrence Gowing, who submitted a painting he did of the Capitol Dome -- the view from his old office at the National Gallery, where he worked this past year.AMERICAN REALISTS II --
Oil Paintings by Don Jurney, Dean Larson, Betina Margolis and David Zuccarini. At the Foxhall Gallery, 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW. 10 to 5 Monday through Saturday, through January 9. THE JAMES McLAUGHLIN MEMORIAL STAFF SHOW --
Artists working at The Phillips Collection. At Susan Conway Gallery, 1058 Thomas Jefferson St. NW. 11 to 5 Tuesday through Friday and 2 to 5 Saturday and Sunday, through December.