Often the most rewarding shows are small and intimate exhibits of small, intimate pictures. Among these, "works on paper" shows can generally be depended on to reveal something special about an artist's work, perhaps because of the intimacy imposed by working on a small scale.
So it is with "Recent Works on Paper," at Addison/Ripley Gallery, featuring a small selection of works by Greg Hannan, Woong Kim, Edith Kuhnle, Barbara Z. Lipman, Gayle Mandle, Rosaline Moore, John Morrell and Michael Smallwood. It's good, first of all, to get reacquainted with Smallwood's untitled luminous squares of color, bisected by sharp ballpoint lines like the etched grooves of an aquatint. Smallwood works in the most vaunted modernist nonobjective tradition, but manages to make new and startling images without becoming tedious in a much-worked format.
Then there are Mandle's intriguing mixed-media collages. She's one of the best local artists working in that iffy discipline today. Her smallest, most basic visual statement, such as the lovely "Goose Cove," a simple horizon of deep green and black overlaid with what looks like crackled asphalt, is teeming with possibilities. Kuhnle, too, checks into this exhibit with a series of small but vigorous acrylic abstracts. Gestural and muted in color, these would hold their own with, for example, the large paintings of William Willis.
And Kim, a relative newcomer to the Washington arts scene, works with oil-stick on paper, creating pictures that are strikingly reminiscent of another of Washington's better-known abstractionists, Carroll Sockwell, while bringing to the iconographic style an almost Kieferlike vigor and density.
One of the most interesting groups of work in this show, which includes both landscape and abstraction, are the selections from Hannan's "Nova Scotia Narrative" series. Hannan's larger works, such as those recently on view in the Corcoran Gallery, have become vastly complicated mixed-media pieces with rather obscure references. But in these smaller works on paper, we see that Hannan's evocative command of pure painting is still very much with him. "Milmac Canoe Study," to name but one, is a directly stated, rich and lovely piece.
Barbara Barrett Caples There's much to be said for those artists who doggedly plug away at traditional renderings of animals, flowers and so forth, heedless -- and sometimes disdainful -- of "high art" fashions of the moment. Only rarely, as in the case of, say, Alan Bateman, do such folk make any mark whatever on the mainstream art world. By and large they work in relative obscurity, creating for a small, dedicated audience and for the sheer love of their subjects, and occasionally, because of a fascination with technique.
So it is with Barbara Barrett Caples. This venerable Alexandria-based artist brings loving attention and years of patient practice to her pictures of badgers, frogs, otters, hedgehogs and other beasts. This much is obvious from her small one-woman show of monotypes depicting various "Fellow Creatures" at the Washington Printmakers Gallery.
Monotypes can be tricky to execute, but, as Caples' prints attest, they also have the potential for many subtle nuances of shading, form and motion. Check out the delicate handling of the spines on her "Hedgehog," the gleam of its moist nose and beady eye.
While most of these engaging pictures are monochromatic, one or two, such as the regal "Cassowary," employ a hint of brilliant color with striking effect. And if Caples' anatomy isn't always dead on, her feel for the particular character of the animals she portrays certainly is. Look, for example, at her large monotypes of baboons, cowled like dark-faced monks, crouched and studious against a background of rich gray-blue. Very nicely done indeed. Eric Fischl, postmodernism's acclaimed enfant terrible of the monotype medium, could learn a thing or two from these prints. They are fashioned without pretense and with passion by one who, I gather, purposely stays about as far from the mainstream art world as she can possibly get.
Blodget at Andrea Ruggieri Michael Blodget is becoming a regular fixture at the Andrea Ruggieri Gallery. His moody seascapes, wall-pieces singularly fashioned from oxidized iron and copper, wax, oil paint, zinc, aluminum, bronze filings and other unlikely materials, are readily recognizable. In fact, they're manufactured with such consistency that it's difficult to tell the works in this one-man show apart from those in his last, almost exactly a year ago.
Blodget's objects are attractive. But one begins to form the impression that they're rather facile, relying on a tried and true device -- as much a chemical reaction as a painting process -- over and over again. In picture after picture, the same rust-brown, brooding cliff looms over a misty, copper oxide-green cove. The textures this artist achieves are sumptuous, and it's hard to keep from stroking the surface of these unevenly formed works. Unfortunately, though, in terms of compositional, aesthetic invention, well once "you've seen one, you've seen 'em all."
Recent Works on Paper, at Addison/Ripley Gallery, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW, through Jan. 12.
Fellow Creatures: Barbara Barrett Caples, at the Washington Printmakers Gallery, 2106 R St. NW, through Dec. 29.
Michael Blodget: New Work, at Andrea Ruggieri Gallery, 2030 R St. NW, through Jan. 5.