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In the galleries: The wonder of color’s intensity and depth

Abstract works continue artist’s path of exploration and authenticity

Christopher Baer's “Holding the Center 17.” (Chris Baer and Addison/Ripley Fine Art)
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“Holding the Center” is the title of Christopher Baer’s show at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, but it might alternately be called “Finding the Bottom.” The native Washingtonian’s abstractions feature large blocks of smeary, thickly applied color set off by circles, X-shapes and what appear to be rips in the pigment. These sketchy intrusions reveal lower levels of contrasting paint that suggest unreachable, unknowable depths. Baer also playfully disputes each painting’s dominant hues by painting the edges of the canvases in opposing ones.

Most of the pictures, all titled “Holding the Center” plus a number, are divided between two color fields. The sense of order in this format is underscored by the smaller figures, which are usually — but not always — placed in rough symmetry. Among the details are dots and X’s made by painting over stickers or lengths of crisscrossed tape. When these are removed, their absence opens windows to the colors below the visible surface, which may or may not be the paintings’ lowest level.

To Baer, these willful imperfections are not simply a technique for introducing dynamism into otherwise static color fields. They are, according to his statement, “an acknowledgment of the tension, discomfort and patience that accompany growth and healing.” So the ragged layers in these paintings can be seen as skin. In that case, the colors that wink beguilingly from below the surface are less significant than the ones that are repairing themselves on top.

Christopher Baer: Holding the Center Through July 16 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Voisine & Yi

The affinity between Don Voisine and Ruri Yi is right there in black and white — and their sparing use of color. The two artists, paired in Pazo Fine Art’s “The Spaces in Between,” are of different backgrounds and generations. But both paint hard-edge geometric abstractions whose occasional irregularities are carefully calculated.

Voisine is a Maine-born New Yorker whose designs were initially derived from the floor plans of apartments where he worked on renovation crews. The works in this selection, all made between 2011 and 2020, mostly center on large black forms that are bracketed at top and bottom by brightly hued bands. The compositions appear formal and stationary, yet have a swooping energy and are enlivened by color contrasts that range from subtle to emphatic.

All but one of Yi’s paintings in this show arrange lozenges on white fields. The Seoul-born Baltimorean varies the 2019-2022 pictures by rendering a few of the identical shapes in various colors other than black, and by occasionally allowing one to slip out of alignment. In one of her pictures, for example, a line of black forms is gently disrupted by a purple one that nudges the upright one to its left. The effect is quietly comic, and also a statement of artistic control. Yi can arrange her paintings with precise predictability, but she doesn’t have to.

Don Voisine and Ruri Yi: The Spaces in Between Through July 7 at Pazo Fine Art, 4228 Howard Ave., Kensington. Open by appointment.

HumanKind

Fingerprints represent individuality, and Zimbabwe-born artist Joseph Muzondo turns them into symbolic portraits in his handsome linocut prints, each of which incorporates a face into single-color whorls framed by white-on-white 3D patterns. The artist’s visages, which are partly inspired by African masks, are among the most evocative depictions of what Amy Kaslow Gallery calls “HumanKind.” The group show of that name features seven artists or artist collectives, including three that have been reviewed in this column previously.

Of the others, the only one who doesn’t portray faces is Esperanza Alzona, a local artist whose cast-aluminum pieces draw on her background as a dancer and choreographer. Meant to show strength and independence, Alzona’s sculptures abbreviate women’s bodies to such active parts as a torso or a pair of ankles and feet. The latter, titled “Nevertheless She Persisted,” shows a woman who has very nearly passed through a wall, signifying transcendence.

Faces are key to Sandra Dooley and Nestor Madalengoitia, both of whom construct human likenesses from bits and pieces. Dooley, who is Cuban, makes prints and mixed-media paintings of women, often featuring cats. Her subjects’ serene expressions suggest a triumph, perhaps temporary, over the ragged existence represented by their roughly collaged forms. Peru’s Madalengoitia creates prints and pastels in which abstract, doodle-like patterns cohere into human subjects. Like Dooley’s pictures, Madalengoitia’s are agitated and gentle as the same time.

HumanKind Through July 10 at Amy Kaslow Gallery, 4300 Fordham Rd. NW.

Kim Abraham

The large oil paintings in Kim Abraham’s show at the Athenaeum can be seen as either micro or macro. The intricate, overlapping patterns of these allover paintings suggest teeming bacteria or star-flecked heavens, as viewed through some sort of scope. But one of the Maryland artist’s sky-oriented pictures features a horizon line and a title that invokes a place visible to the naked eye: “Inishkea” refers to a set of small islands off Ireland’s west coast.

This painting foreshadows the landscapes of Ireland in the venue’s back room. Executed in gouache and watercolor as well as oil, these smaller paintings are as immersive as Abraham’s near-abstractions, yet very different in composition. They offer familiar arrangements of earth and sky, although the renderings are far from photographic. Where the painter’s cosmic expanses swarm with hard-edge gestures, in these pictures clouds softly blur into each other.

Now attuned to Abraham’s realist underpinnings, viewers may notice details in the bigger paintings. There’s a house in “Peat,” a tree painted on copper in “Evergreen” and tiny bees nestled in the greenery of “Colony.” Also on display is a picture with a different sort of Celtic inspiration: an abstraction based on the fanciful embellishments of the Book of Kells, a ninth-century Christian manuscript probably made in Scotland or Ireland. It’s different sort of cosmic excursion for Abraham, but just as bustling and colorful.

Kim Abraham Through July 10 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.

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