There is a word to describe Jody Mussoff's graphic style: emphatic. There's something emphatic about the sure lines she uses to describe her figures, about the postures she chooses for them and also about the fact that they are always women. Their solitude too is emphatic.
Mussoff's riveting colored-pencil drawings and oil paintings of women, clothed or nude, alone or in groups, always manage to evince a disturbing duality in the viewer -- or in this viewer, in any event. The images in her new one-person show at David Adamson Gallery are no exception. By and large the women here are young and lovely, sensuous and animated. But all of them -- even the most attractive nudes -- are absolutely untouchable. Their gazes, when directed at the audience, are introspective. When they appear in groups, they hardly ever look at one another. Some seem idiotically amused or frightened, others rapturous or hurt beyond words.
Something that sets Mussoff's nude studies apart from the work of so many other artists, male or female, is the fact that all of her subjects have an identity. They are never just anonymous bodies or anatomical studies, even though the artist goes to considerable lengths to attract the viewer's eye to just that.
Take the most confrontational -- and, in many respects, the loveliest -- of the women depicted in this new collection (many of whom, as usual, bear a marked resemblance to the artist herself). Archly titled "Magritte Painting," the nude here fills the entire canvas stiffly and frontally, her comely body framed in long dark tresses. But the viewer's eye is more compelled to the eyes and face of the woman than to her figure. He is challenged, in effect, to settle his attention between soma and personality.
There are more props in these new works than in previous Mussoff compositions, more external "situations" and environments for her figures to inhabit. But even these are spare, so the beautiful, detached and dynamically drawn women, whether floating desperately in pools of water or gesturing emphatically to a white space of paper, are essentially alone.
Carol Goldberg at Osuna Gallery It seems that every time Carol Goldberg has a new exhibit, there's something radically different about her work. Her one-person show at Osuna Gallery certainly fits the trend.
Ten years ago Goldberg was making brilliantly colored and patterned and crazily posed figures, exotic cutout plants and bizarre-looking houses. Her art is now utterly different -- and has evolved to be so over the past few years by going through a steady process of absorption of ideas and styles, and an attention to, one might almost say an obsession with, detail. This is abstract painting for people who think, and who aren't afraid to ponder some of the stickier philosophical implications of modern physics, to which a good deal of her work alludes.
Mostly small and meticulously painted, many bearing pseudo-quantum mechanical titles such as "Fermions of Uruk" or "Mesons on Mari," these recent compositions are as graceful and visually attractive as they are complex. Patterns of spirals whirl behind the catapulted figures of distorted calligraphic symbols, some of which resemble Hebraic or Chinese figures, others of which are obviously derived from the arcana of physicists' equations. Goldberg's command of color has become impressive, her tones harmonious and the images at the forefront of these little worlds vivid and convincing.
The artist has gained a great deal through her association with several area heavyweights -- Chip Richardson, Andrea Way and the late Simon Gouverneur among them. She now joins as something of a heavyweight herself a growing cadre of Washington artists who have been forging one of the more fascinating forms of pictorial abstraction -- one certain someday to command attention well beyond the borders of this city.
Hilda Thorpe at Mahler Gallery Hilda Thorpe has been a working painter and sculptor in the Washington area since the days of the flickeringly famous Washington Color School. And she still paints, well, mostly color. Like the late Leon Berkowitz, Thorpe has eschewed hard edges and geometric figuration for nimbuslike fields of painted or stained color -- even in her sculpture, which she makes variously of thin ceramic and rough-edged handmade paper.
When she's at her best, Thorpe is very good. Several of the larger works in this Mahler Gallery exhibit, such as "Blue Rain" and the triptych "Morning Shift," are mesmerizing, seemingly full of motion and depth. But when her work falls flat it's because of overuse of primary colors. The eye yearns to see more values and gray tones, less predictable balance in the way the color fields interact.
Of the works in this show, the most successful are far and away the big colorful wall constructions. Thorpe seems at her freest and most inventive in this medium, perhaps because she is forced to think in terms of both field and three-dimensional object. By dint of medium and placement, these works call to mind the sculpture of Martha Jackson-Jarvis, but they are more concerned with describing color and space than with themselves as objects.
Jody Mussoff: New Work, at David Adamson Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through Feb. 27.
Carol Goldberg, at Osuna Gallery, 1919 Q St. NW, through Feb. 15.
Hilda Thorpe: New Work, at Mahler Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through Feb. 22.