In this post-postmodern age of widespread aesthetic and stylistic confusion among artists, it's always refreshing to see new work from the confident brush of Robert Stackhouse. True, the subject of his paintings and sculpture has changed little in more than two decades: fanciful wood constructions directly or loosely inspired by the ever lovely shape of a ship's hull, and other less obvious inventions in wood and watercolor.
But, as his new one-man show at B R Kornblatt Gallery makes plain, the sheer force of this artist's rendering never seems to grow blunt, and the range of visual pattern and compositional possibility of his chosen subject is apparently inexhaustible. It's a matter of artistic maturity. It takes time, experience and perseverance to make truly good art, and Stackhouse has proved this time and time again.
This exhibit is dominated by a massive wood construction and painting installation titled, aptly enough, "Encounterings Installation." It provides an opportunity to walk about and view firsthand the ever-shifting patterns of light and dark that so attract Stackhouse, who often creates his sculptures from entirely imaginary structures, first realized as meticulous drawings. Among the pictures most revealing of his ability to communicate the magic of his endless preoccupation are several small untitled watercolors depicting what appears to be a beam-braced mine shaft, or perhaps a tomb. These are rendered with tremendous depth and sensitivity. Then there is a series of monochromatic aquatints -- some of them huge -- in blues and striking reds, real gems.
Stackhouse makes art objects that you want to own. The slightest of them provides continuous revelation; intricacy and detail that cannot be fully apprehended at one long look, nor in a hundred. His drafting style is vigorous and communicates a delight in the tactility of both his medium and his subject.
Peruvian Art at IMF
It's always chancy to try to form an accurate impression of the contemporary art of any culture based solely on the content of a group show. Most such exhibitions are curated with an agenda. And in "Peru: Pre-Columbian and Contemporary Art, An Encounter," at the International Monetary Fund Visitors Center, the curator of the contemporary work exhibited, Luis Lama, strains a bit to prove a point. To wit (a quote from Lama's catalogue essay): "Our painters do not attempt to introduce a new vanguard, since paradoxically enough, the most daring results are obtained when the artists turn their gaze to their own roots, to the landscape ... or to testimony of the pre-Columbian cultures ..."
Unfortunately, little influence of the fantastic creatures and patterns that decorate so much pre-Columbian pottery or gold ware -- quite a few interesting examples of which are included here -- is readily apparent in the contemporary work. Much of it is inventive and original. Most, however, is more substantially influenced by European-based modernism than by any prototypical Indian work. There is everything from non-objective color field painting, such as that by Ramiro Llona, to heavily fauvist-influenced expressionism -- "Red," by Carlos Enrique Polanco, for example.
A number of these artists have clearly been inspired by the work of the Cuban modernist-surrealist Matta (for whom one just might make a case for some pre-Columbian influence). Others, such as Leoncio Villanueva, whose painting "Pachamama" is one of the finest pieces here, show more than a passing acquaintance with the work of Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and select German neo-expressionists. In short, this collection of contemporary work is no more "Peruvian" than that of any eclectic group show you might see just about anywhere.
This is not to say that there isn't some very fine work here. There is. It also isn't to assert that there is not a distinctly "Peruvian" oeuvre of contemporary art. It's just to note that, judging by this exhibit at least, contemporary mainstream art is ubiquitous, and true innovations will likely come, as always, from determined, inventive individuals -- of whatever culture.
Joseph White at Baumgartner
It's been some time since Joseph White has had a one-man show in the Washington area, so one approaches his new works at the Baumgartner Galleries with considerable interest and some trepidation.
Consisting of only seven modest-sized canvases, this small exhibit is a markedly mixed bag. All of these white, cream and blue-gray compositions are ostensibly of stacks of stone or stairways, limned only in shadows that sometimes overlap to create hard-edged diagonals. The influence of the Washington Color School is still very much evident in White's work; indeed, it's more evident now than it was during the time when he was painting much more complex compositions such as land- and cityscapes.
The finest pieces here are the simplest; the sparest, most subtly colored and elegantly conceived. Perhaps the best is "Vaux Le Vicomte Two," a quiet composition of three diagonal shadows which, intentionally or not, make a very pointed reference to the popular Color School motif of the chevron. The somewhat bolder pieces, "Venice Two" and "Bourges One," are also attractive works. But when the subjects become too obvious, or their delineation too sharp, they loose power. It's a 50-50 show, but one 50 is really good.
Robert Stackhouse, Installation and Drawings, at B R Kornblatt Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through Jan. 5.
Peru: Pre-Columbian and Contemporary Art, an Encounter, at the International Monetary Fund Visitors Center, 700 19th St. NW, through Jan. 4.
Joseph White, Recent Paintings, at Baumgartner Galleries, 2016 R St. NW, through Jan. 5.