Tucked away in a cramped, shadowy courtyard off P Street in Georgetown is the Washington Studio School Gallery. "Our emphasis," says artist and co-founder Lee Newman, "is on the perceptual rather than the conceptual. John Baldessari would not feel comfortable here." The gallery, a low-ceilinged, windowless room with industrial carpeting, does not belong to the world of power art. And when this tiny gallery hosts a painter of such expansive talents as Jack Boul, as it is now doing through Nov. 29, all spatial limitations melt away.
Which is precisely how Boul's paintings work. They are tiny in scale, compact in their power and craft. But each one offers a universe of satisfaction to the viewer.
Boul's series of cityscapes are typical of his success at investing the commonplace with a magic that attracts the heart before the eye. His working-class neighborhoods are deserted of people but filled with soft, shadowed tones, as though buildings were whispering to one another in colors across the empty streets. There is an expression of nostalgia here, a quiet appreciation of what once was, best stated in subtle oils on wood. In "Viaduct," the red hues of the wood serve as the ground and background for the artist's expertly restrained brushwork, giving his unspectacular colors a ruddiness, a blush of blood beneath their skins.
Many of the works in this show are monotypes. All are crafted with superior skill. They range from nudes to the impressionistic "Through the Pergola," a simple garden view that shivers like an image on the surface of a pond.
Boul's landscape oils too achieve an emotional whole that is mysteriously greater than the sum of their technically impressive parts. "Urbana" is a long view of the Southern Maryland countryside, misted fields broken by lines of spring trees, with the white roofs of a farmhouse swimming in the distance. And one small oil on wood, titled simply "Nude," is so exquisite a pairing of light and shadow that it justifies an Old Master comparison.
Boul, now 63, seems to have taken shelter long ago from the storms of fashion that ceaselessly sweep over the art world. As a teacher at the Studio School since 1984, he has given his students a lesson in what can still happen, even today, when talent and technique combine with vision and heart: great art. Four Sculptors at Addison/Ripley Alexandra Middendorf has curated an excellent small show of four Washington-area sculptors, "Wall Sculpture & Frieze," at Addison/Ripley gallery. Each of the four is well-known, regionally if not internationally, and each is at mid-career. Stylistically, the only thing they share is this space and the show's theme. The real delight is in the diversity of approach.
Lenore Winters's broad, thin sculptures of painted plaster spread across the wall like patches of light. The plaster drinks in the paint, and after repeated layering and burnishing and a coat of wax, the surfaces take on the soft, reflective glow of tiles. She uses an Aztec motif for these "tiles," irregular circles within asymmetrical squares. The pieces have a curved and drifting form to them, giving them a feeling of flow. They are also fragmentary in shape, which reinforces the air of artifacts rescued from an archaeological dig.
More interesting are Christopher Gardner's bronzes. The sharp, aggressive geometry, all arrows, lightning bolts, gears and concentric circles, makes one think of Kandinsky in a fighting mood. The constructivist elements are there, and very effectively designed, but closer inspection reveals the painstakingly patinated surfaces. The material seems almost to possess a kind of warm breath, not exactly what you expect from bronze, but these pieces are expertly worked.
Yuriko Yamaguchi, fast acquiring a reputation to match her prodigious talent, ultimately steals the show with her stained and painted wood pieces -- if you can believe that these sculptures are, in fact, made of wood. Some of the heavily layered and painted surfaces could only be rough stone, others metal or aged and crusted wrought iron. There is more here, though, than the intriguing illusion of an almost alchemistic transmutation. The shapes themselves have a mysterious, devotional appearance to them, spherical, ovoid, soft-edged rectangular shapes, enhanced by their hushed, earthen colors. The stark lighting and the position of the pieces waist-high on these white walls combine to give them a feel of ancient altars, something from a Greek or Oriental temple. Yamaguchi's remarkable inventiveness is heightened by the rigor of her art, something of the austerity and classical simplicity that Westerners often associate with Japanese art. Whether that informs her work or not, the strength and beauty of these pieces are undeniable.
Lisa Scheer is represented with "Delphi," a piece that transforms a rectangular doorway into a vaulted arch and makes a Greek temple of a tiny side-room. Her material is the thick sheets of rusted steel she is well-known for, folded and bolted into sharp geometric shapes, a mix of cubism and rock crystal. The rust patina has the look of sandstone, reinforcing the feel of density and magnitude.
Jack Boul, Paintings and Monotypes, Washington Studio School Gallery, 3232 P St. NW. Through Nov. 29.
Wall Sculpture & Frieze: Lenore Winters, Christopher Gardner, Lisa Scheer, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Addison/Ripley Gallery, 9 Hillyer Ct., through Dec. 8.