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In the galleries: Delicate dominates at annual sculpture show

Exhibition appropriates a softer stance, and substantial pieces can be deceptive

A gallery view of “Sculpture Now 2022” featuring works by 48 Mid-Atlantic artists. (Fitsum Shebeshe/Harmony Hall Arts Center)
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Seeking a traditional metal or stone piece in Harmony Hall Arts Center’s sprawling “Sculpture Now 2022,” visitors may be drawn to Richard Binder’s graceful “Uplifting.” But this curled swoop of thin stainless steel is delicate rather than monumental. And it’s less characteristic of the exhibition than is Mitra Lore’s heavy-metal contribution, which mocks the brawniness of a piece of forged industrial machinery by adorning it with pearls and rhinestones.

Such found objects abound in the Washington Sculptors Group-sponsored show, which features work by 48 Mid-Atlantic artists, a few represented by more than one entry. Many of the pieces hang in midair, and are at least partly wispy. Kass McGowan suspends a set of dinner napkins, each inserted with a page from an old reference book. Tory Cowles dangles columns of found objects, many colorfully painted, in a sort of three-string circus. The piece casts intriguing shadows, as do Cindy Winnick’s soft sculpture of a dancer with oversize feet and Mahy Polymeropoulos’s “Sea Urchin,” which reduces the creature to a nest of blue wires.

Natural forms also inform such wall sculptures as Lisa Battle’s “Ripple,” which suggests a babbling brook with eight interlocking curved ceramic bars, and Liz Lescault’s “Sun Stroke,” whose elaborately patterned central ceramic form is surrounded by pincers made of plastic. A more topical use of plastic is Nic Galloro’s “Stop the Flow,” in which a pipe discharges not water but a seven-foot-high stream of throwaway bottles.

Electronic-device refashioner Chris Combs sculpts with light, ironically hiding twinkling LEDs behind a dirty rag. Jenny Wu assembles small pieces of pigment in patterns to make a sculpture that’s also a painting. Alyssa Imes fabricates in cast iron more than 50 sets of lips, which are scattered on the floor. Imes’s unorthodox use of a standard sculptural material is echoed by Alan Rhody’s “Jax-in-the-Box,” which looks like a flimsy children’s toy but was in fact carved from a block of limestone. Metal and stone do appear in “Sculpture Now 2022,” but most often in amusingly deceptive guises.

Sculpture Now 2022 Through June 3 at Harmony Hall Arts Center, 10701 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington.

Inglis & Shapiro

Boston artist Paul Inglis arranges simple, brightly colored lines or shapes, the latter so robust that they can’t always be restricted to one dimension. Inglis’s Gallery Neptune & Brown show, “Rise and Shine,” consists primarily of prints, but placed among them are small, painted-wood sculptures that amplify the forms seen in many of the woodblocks. Inglis calls the pieces “critters,” and some resemble streamlined dogs or birds. Among the inspirations for them are antique toys Inglis keeps in his studio.

The artist doesn’t construct sculptures based on his prints, which feature not blocks but sets of lines, but the latter compositions are just as vibrant. Inglis opposes or overlaps figures made of tight parallel rules in one or two colors, devising patterns that suggest buildings (“Monument”) or rain (“Sun Showers”), or that appear to oscillate (“Sprinkler Gold”). Reducing everyday things to elementary patterns yields surprisingly intricate counterpoint.

Also on exhibit are four larger but otherwise compatible prints by Joel Shapiro, a veteran abstract metal sculptor. (Among the New Yorker’s local works is an askew minimalist spire outside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.) The prints juxtapose eccentrically shaped but essentially boxy forms, usually in just two colors, although one has four. The connection to Shapiro’s sculptures is evident, but where those exist in the real world, the prints’ shapes float on expanses of white paper. This frees them to be, playfully and sublimely, insubstantial.

Paul Inglis: Rise and Shine, with work by Joel Shapiro. Through June 4 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.

Howard Mehring

“From the Gestural to the Sublime” is Connersmith’s third exhibition in less than two years of paintings by Washington colorist Howard Mehring (1931-1978), but the show is far from redundant. As before, the gallery proprietors have unearthed works that have never shown publicly, several of which are exceptional.

The selection is worth a look just for two subtly dappled pictures: “Untitled (Blue Gesture)” is an allover composition in which blue swirls dance atop dark-gray ones, while “Aura II” features horizontal bands of gradated gray that are subtly infiltrated by pink. Both paintings feel as hazy and enveloping as morning mist.

The emphasis here is on early efforts, made between 1956 and 1961 and including two oils from before Mehring adopted the then-new acrylic pigments. One of those early pictures, “Larch,” contains a glimmer of green that hints at the heathered compositions that would arrive not long after. Another harbinger of Mehring’s later work is “Untitled (Yellow Gray Diagonal),” which maintains soft hues while splitting them into two triangles, thus anticipating the artist’s future hard-edge style. Even viewers who’ve seen a lot of Mehring’s work will likely gain a new appreciation from seeing these path-finding pictures.

Howard Mehring: From the Gestural to the Sublime Through June 4 at Connersmith, 1013 O St. NW. Open by appointment.

Sally Davies

In her Art League show, “Our Fractured Life,” photorealist painter Sally Davies employs two distinct modes to visualize pandemic-period isolation. One is depicting socially distanced outdoor activities as seen — in a trademark Davies strategy — from above. These purple-shadowed scenes are painted on small square canvases that are arranged in checkerboard patterns, leaving both symbolic and actual open space to separate them. The other approach is to portray women (and one girl) in such extreme close-up that little more than a single eye is within the frame.

The latter pictures, vertically oriented and much larger than life-size, dominate the show. The Maryland artist complicates the simple compositions with intricate detail, notably in irises alive with reflected light. She also adds literal depth to the faces by partly layering them with handmade ceramic tiles, some imprinted with fingerprint-like whorls. The images are too tightly cropped for their subjects to be recognizable, yet each painting has a strong sense of individuality.

Sally Davies: Our Fractured Life Through June 5 at the Art League, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

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