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In the galleries: Dynamic abstract sculptural works in wood show disparate styles

Four artists explore their personal visions along with their methodology of making

Installation view of the “Give & Take: Building Form” exhibition with “Sprites” by Emilie Benes Brzezinski, wood, in the foreground. (McLean Project for the Arts)

The way sculpture juxtaposes positive form and negative space might be termed “Give and Take,” as the title of a show at McLean Project for the Arts puts it. The exhibition features four local sculptors who work primarily in wood, and whose styles are as complementary as they are disparate.

The rawest pieces are by Emilie Benes Brzezinski, who manipulates large chunks of fallen trees without fully transforming them. She keeps the appearance and organic qualities of wood while shaping and scarring the trunks, whether randomly or methodically. A partly hollowed-out piece resembles a primitive boat, and a set of two carved uprights retains the towering quality of a small grove. Another pair of standing trunks, “Sprites,” is incised more regularly, so that it somewhat resembles the work of another of the show’s contributors, Foon Sham.

Where “Sprites” is made of two single lengths of scored wood, Sham’s columns are pieced together from hundreds (or more) of small blocks. Spiraling and sometimes daringly ungainly, the sculptor’s creations look a bit like monumental crags or massive ceramic vessels. They also can have attributes of living things. “Four Directions” is a sort of quadruped, with each of its feet planted in a different orientation. The dynamism of this stance exemplifies the natural vitality of Sham’s chosen material.

Mostly sculpted but also assembled, Rachel Rotenberg's cedar wall pieces can incorporate pieces of metal, such as the parallel tracks that run through the twinned ear-like shapes of “Side by Side.” Seemingly organic forms, often with a void at the center, are common in her work. So is lightly applied or partially stripped paint, such as the hints of green on the cowl-like “Gateway.” The resulting configurations are robust and hard-edge, yet emulate intriguingly the soft, folded quality of fabric.

Norma Schwartz also centers her sculptures on holes or slits, and emphasizes the fleshiness of these apertures by naming one piece after Gustave Courbet’s “The Origin of the World,” an ever-controversial 1866 painting centered on a woman’s genitalia. Made of glued-together pieces of poplar that are shaped and smoothed, the artist’s works contrast the wood’s natural grain with surfaces polished to a machine-tooled sheen. Schwartz’s pieces twist wood the furthest from its unprocessed state, yet they join the other artists’ work in deriving power from their material’s natural strength, texture and form.

Also at the gallery is Sheila Crider’s “Intersectional Painting,” a set of patchwork fabric assemblages whose vivid colors suggest painting yet whose forms are sculptural. The D.C. artist’s statement says she uses “quilt batting as a metaphor for community,” but the pieced-together objects also have a visceral aspect. While several are standing or wall-mounted pieces whose shapes resemble drums, others include hanging strips that evoke bones and sinews. The striking “Belly of a Champion” suspends multihued strands from a blood-red background, as if to represent the human body as an essential example of intersecting parts and functions.

Give & Take: Building Form and Sheila Crider: Intersectional Painting Through Feb. 19 at McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean.

Walking Together

Razor blades, broken crockery and vials of actual tears speak to violence against women in “Walking Together: For Them and for Us,” a rightfully combative show at Mason Exhibitions Arlington. Fifteen artists who live in or are linked to Latin America, 12 of them women, are represented at the venue, a recent addition to George Mason University's Arlington campus.

“Walking Together” was organized by Gabriela Rosso, who has curated previous shows on similar themes that included some of the same artists. Her statement cites a United Nations study that identifies gender violence as the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 44. The university’s exhibition website includes a content warning likely inspired in large part by a video in which Regina José Galindo stages an explicit performance in response to a gang rape. Gentler but also possibly unsettling to some viewers are Erika Harrsch’s 3-D photo collages of butterflies whose bodies are human vulvas.

Silvia Levenson signifies male brutality by placing razor blades inside glass tiles that are wired together into a shift-like garment. Manuela Viera Gallo ties fragments of smashed plates with rope and hangs them on the wall as reminders of domestic violence. Luisi Llosa's small flasks of her own tears number seven, one for each of her years in an abusive relationship.

Other artists use the vocabulary of public protest. Cerrucha offers photos of feminist street art in Mexico City. Ana De Orbegoso catalogues feminist slogans, lettered on “power vests” or projected on women in moments captured in photos. The most wrenching artworks, though, reveal traumas most often suffered in private.

Walking Together: For Them and for Us Through Feb. 19 at Mason Exhibitions Arlington, 3601 Fairfax Dr., Arlington.

The Colors of Haiti

Renderings of bustling markets, lush forests and incongruous fauna dominate “The Color of Haiti,” Watergate Gallery’s more-or-less annual survey of paintings from the impoverished Caribbean nation. The styles, from realist to childlike, are familiar from previous such shows, as are the characteristic imagery and a few of the individual pictures. One thing that’s new is that 10 percent of the proceeds will benefit Food for the Poor, a nonprofit group that works in Haiti.

Among the standouts are Marcel Wah’s unusually uncolorful market scene, executed in just brown and tan, and Stevenson Magloire’s “Illuminati,” which arrays mystical totems such as an eye inside a triangle, an enigmatic detail of the U.S. dollar bill. As in earlier shows, the pictures teem with animals that don’t actually inhabit Haiti, including giraffes, zebras and lions. But in Gabriel Coutard’s “Le Tigres et les Fruits,” the interloping animal is upstaged by a huge tree that bears many fruits and vegetables, including some that don’t grow on trees. The painting is a vision of tropical abundance, and an example of abundant fancy.

The Colors of Haiti Through Feb. 28 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave NW.

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