AT HENRI GALLERY, Jean Russo's "Broken Mandalas" don't lead the viewer on paths to higher consciousness, but they do encourage meditation.
For her "paper paintings," Russo borrows the circular design from the Eastern religious symbol for the universe or wholeness. But she interprets it according to Jasper Johns. She has the same painterly effects -- even his numbers creep in almost subconsciously -- and the same repetitive use of a particular symbol. Johns' mandala of course was a target.
Where the idea of broken mandala comes from can only be guessed, because these paintings clearly have unity. Lines scrabble across the surface, and many colors go to work at once, but there is a pleasant glowing hue to each work. The presence is so strong that the circle appears to be scored on a wood panel instead of inscribed or collaged on heavy paper. Meanwhile, the form of the circle -- inherently beautiful and hypnotic -- keeps returning the viewer back through the work.
The mini-gallery just outside the Mayor's Office in the District Building is hosting, in celebration of Black History Month, the work of 22 local black artists. But there is no such thing as a local style. Each one of these speaks distinctively, and some of Washington's best voices are among them.
The works of Sam Gilliam and Martha Jackson-Jarvis, for instance, often overwhelm with their size. Here the examples are comparatively small but representative. Gilliam's "Leah's Other Rabbit" still invites you to read back through the density of his generously slathered and splattered bright acrylics. Painted aluminum lightning splits the two canvases in this wall construction which, overall, projects a tumbling feeling, underscored by the freedom of Gilliam's paint.
Jackson-Jarvis' "Notes on Death and Dying" is her characteristic amorphous clay construction. Despite its small size, the burnt brown clay form, pierced with ceramic shards, heaves with decay and neglect.
Georgette Powell captures the potential pathos of city life in "But for the Grace of God," a scruffy portrait of a bag lady. The huddled woman's image is being eroded by the stuff of her life, the crumbled cigarette butts, the scraps of her fake leopard coat. This is a mixed media work that gracefully avoids being precious.
By contrast, Lou Stovall's silkscreened tondos express a bright optimism; even the ironically titled "In Forest Deep" offers a way out through a sexually suggestive streambed.
Lois Mailou Jones is best known for her colorful Martha's Vineyard landscapes. "Glyphs" is nothing like that. Here Jones takes the common theme of African symbols and combines them in an uncommon composition -- placing them in compartments, interrelating them with vibrant blue and subtly repeated patterns within patterns.
When "The Subject Is Women" opened at Partners Gallery in Bethesda the other day, several women phoned ahead to find out if it was all right to bring their husbands.
Which just proves that you can't predict the reaction you'll get to a subject so general. The 11 artists in the show are no exception.
To ceramicist Kathleen Dustin, women are beleaguered pear-shaped housewives stuffed into jeans, kerchiefs holding back their hair; coupons, clocks, keys and kids dot their sweaters. These statues in armchair thrones invite fascinated study: Dustin is careful with details.
Ann Barbieri paints loose women. They're drawn that way, and they look that way -- fleshy women in a wispy style, pleasure- palace gatekeepers.
David Cochran is obsessed with "the new woman," but he places her in a situation where she absolutely doesn't have to work. He has done a series on "Driven Women." They ride in limousines.
They are elegant over lunch, intrepid at teatime. They are modern, with a touch of Fitzgerald's Daisy or Tennessee Williams' Blanche, lounging and listening to the strolling violinist of the imagination. Cochran's palette for women is pastel relieved by airbrushed silver and gold, a shimmery undersurface. It's not quite what Degas did for his dancers.
Tom Woodward's woman -- whom he draws meticulously -- is an androgynous Olympian, bony and sinewy. By contrast, Marc Sijan only sculpts pretty girls between the ages of 16 and 21. His sculptures give one pause because they are so real looking. Like George Segal, he casts his figures from live models. But otherwise they are very different artists. Segal places his figures in environments, such as an elevator or a bus, that emphasize their lonely anonymity. Sijan has them coming out of mirrors or lying with lovers in bed, and the effect is cloying.
JEAN RUSSO -- "Broken Mandalas." At Henri Gallery, 1500 21st Street NW through March 9. The gallery is open from 11 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday and 2 to 6 Sunday.
LOCAL ARTISTS -- "Metropolitan Visual Artists" will be on display through March at the District Building's Mini Art Gallery, Fifth Floor, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The gallery is open from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- "The Subject Is Women." At Partners Gallery, 4724 Hampden Lane, Bethesda, through March 23. Hours are 10 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday; Friday until 8.