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In the galleries: Artists deliver unique perspectives on found objects

Natural and man-made materials illustrate an invigorated, future-facing mindset

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Otis Street Arts Project’s show is called “Fresh” because it showcases new work by nearly all the 11 artists who maintain studios there. But there’s another potential meaning to the title: Many of the works involve novel ways of looking at existing objects.

A prime example is Gloria Vasquez’s “Avocado Dulcinea,” named for a character in “Don Quixote” and one of the sculpture’s principal ingredients. The artist collected pieces of avocado skin and discovered that, rather than rot, they dried into shell-like forms. She shaped them into a female torso that she painted gold, wrapped in window-screen material and tied with ribbon. The assemblage can be seen as womanhood either prized or imprisoned.

Many of the found objects are wooden. CeCi Cole McInturff constructed a delicate hanging piece from a twisted, white-tinted sycamore branch with clusters of palm-blossom stem at each end. Chris Combs, who works mostly with interactive electronics, concealed a motion-activated running light of a truck behind a split log. Art Drauglis built a towering chest of drawers whose front began as, and retains, the appearance of a large piece of gnarled-edged wood.

Among the man-made materials are the black wires that Kirsty Little twists into dynamic forms and tips with colored wax, and the extruded plastic filament that Liz Lescault weaves into netlike hangings. A self-portrait by Camilla Angel, a recent Howard University graduate awarded a three-month residency at Otis Street, is mostly painted but includes a cellphone represented by shards of compact discs. The silvery surfaces literally reflect the picture’s viewer, and symbolically reflect what the artist called her “self-construction” in a recent chat with a gallery visitor. Among the things the “Fresh” contributors discovered in found objects is themselves.

Fresh Through June 11 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier.

Melanie Kehoss

Her principal utensil is a knife, but in a sense, Melanie Kehoss also uses a trowel. A social historian as well as an artist, the Arlington, Va., artist excavates the past with a particular stress on foodways. “Labor and Leisure,” her McLean Project for the Arts show, consists of 14 lightboxes in which cutout figures encapsulate the stories of such comestibles as coffee, candy and corn syrup.

Some of the vignettes consider “activities that began as work and evolved into leisure,” Kehoss's statement explains. These include diving and fishing. Other pieces draw connections between consumption and its hidden costs: “A Refined Display” contrasts Elizabethan-age spun-sugar confections with the brutal Caribbean plantations that produced the necessary ingredient; “A Brief History of Trash” time-travels from a scrap collector on a horse-drawn carriage to a contemporary recycling bin.

The players in these historical dramas are rendered in black or dark colors and silhouetted against illuminated backdrops. The light activates the shapes, as well as the designs that frame the scenes, which are painted on thin Japanese-style paper. The glowing format suggests the distance of historical events, viewed through a glass not darkly but brightly.

Melanie Kehoss: Labor and Leisure Through June 11 at McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean.

Van Pulley

Because of its durability, cypress is sometimes called “the wood eternal.” The living trees are also impressively enduring: In 2019, a North Carolina bald cypress was determined to be more than 2,600 years old. Yet few old-growth cypresses survive, a development that partly inspired Northern Virginia photographer Van Pulley’s “Tree Eternal.” The Multiple Exposures Gallery show comprises 21 numbered views of trees in the Caddo Lake bayou on the Louisiana-Texas border.

The muted-color photos effectively evoke the semiaquatic landscape and conjure a moist, hazy vibe. Cypresses are the central focus, offering strong vertical contrasts to the horizontally oriented pictures. Just as striking, though, are the mists that shroud the water line, sometimes ascending in vaporous columns, and the diffused light that streaks the lake’s surface and highlights the trees’ trunks and leaves.

Save for the egret in one picture, the vistas appear unpopulated, seemingly free from human intrusion. That, of course, is not true of cypresses in general. The trees are threatened by logging, habitat loss and saltwater intrusion caused by rising sea levels. While Pulley’s visual essay conveys an aura of endless serenity, the trees’ eternal survival is very much in question.

Van Pulley: Tree Eternal Through June 12 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

Mary Early

In Mary Early’s recent site-specific sculptures, all titled “Linea” plus a number, thin and uniformly shaped bars of beeswax are tied together and suspended in tight, regular sequences in open spaces. In her preparatory drawings for the minimalist installations, straight yellow lines rendered usually in wax crayon are aligned atop mottled, ink-wash backdrops. The D.C. artist’s Gallery 2112 show, “Linea Studies,” consists mostly of such drawings, but includes two 3D wax works.

“Linea XII” is a curtain of hanging strips placed in front of the gallery’s three bow-front windows. The piece is simpler than “Linea XI” (installed last November for a three-month run at Art Enables), yet substantial in its intentionally insubstantial way. Also featured is a smaller 2012 sculpture, a ring made of wood and beeswax that defies the linearity of the show’s other entries by being circular. It’s spare, yet seems almost baroque in this context.

The most extravagant things in the show are the backgrounds of the drawings. Entirely in shades of black and gray, the washes achieve lush textures by billowing on the paper's surface. Pitted against the roughly executed but uniformly placed yellow lines that represent the wax bars, the inky blots are richly random. The artist's sculptures employ wax forms to define space in rooms whose contours tend to be as tidy as the installations themselves. In her drawings, though, Early's methodical patterns appear to contend with a universal chaos that defies art's attempts to establish order.

Mary Early: Linea Studies Through June 11 at Gallery 2112, 2112 R St. NW.

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