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In the galleries: Women view environmental issues via imagery

Works created during the pandemic emphasize what is worth preserving

“Structure Series 22” by Sondra N. Arkin. (Sondra Arkin)
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Like much contemporary nature-themed art, the work in “The Fragility of Their Nature: Ocean, Sky, Land” was conceived in a spirit of crisis. Yet the four-woman District of Columbia Arts Center show is gentle in tone. That probably reflects, at least in part, that many of the paintings, drawings and prints were made while these local artists were in pandemic-period isolation, and thus inclined toward introspection.

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The pieces are detailed and intricate, but with varying degrees of abstraction. The most realistic are Rebecca Clark’s pencil drawings of birds and whales, some of which are augmented by quiet hues of pastel, watercolor and colored pencil. The pictures are precise enough for scientific renderings, but their compositions are dynamic rather than academic.

Most of Marty Ittner’s contributions are from her “Sentinel Series,” cyanotypes of lighthouses overlaid with encaustic and marbled blue patterns. Also striking is the artist’s “Verge,” just as watery but less literal, and printed on shaped Plexiglas to give a sense of fluidity.

Jacqui Crocetta constructs nature-like vignettes from small dots and dashes of acrylic paint, a painstaking technique that complements Sondra N. Arkin’s use of watercolor, ink and wax to craft allover patterns that suggest bubbles, ripples or microscopic aqueous forms. Both artists evoke the experience of peering through water, although Crocetta sometimes depicts what appear to be coastlines or riverbanks, and Arkin includes a few lovely pictures of overlapping branches in pale, translucent hues.

As curator Claudia Rousseau notes in her statement, the four artists express “their concern over the many problems the natural world is suffering.” Yet the show’s outlook is less alarm than wonder. “The Fragility of Their Nature” emphasizes not what’s been lost, but what’s worth preserving.

The Fragility of Their Nature: Ocean, Sky, Land Through July 31 at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW.

Gill & Edmonds

Imagery derived from nature features in the work of Caitlin Gill and Charma Le Edmonds, but their styles have very different dispositions. Gill’s mixed-media paintings are beautiful yet harsh, while Edmonds’s are tranquil and unapologetically decorative.

Edmonds, a Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma member and longtime Washingtonian who died last year, made a career in restaurant interior design. The handsome paintings in her Popcorn Gallery show, “Untold Stories,” are abstractions, or perhaps imaginary still lifes. They juxtapose bright and neutral colors and organic and ornamental forms.

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Some of the elements were produced by Surrealist-style automatic drawing, according to the statement by the show’s curator, American University Museum director Jack Rasmussen. Whatever the sources of the forms in these paintings, they’re meticulously rendered and elegantly balanced. Edmonds’s pictorial cosmos is complex and often asymmetrical, yet always harmonious.

Rendered on wooden panels with watery, earth-toned pigments, Gill’s renderings of chickens are delicate. But the Baltimore artist’s “All Natural,” upstairs from Popcorn in the Park View Gallery, is also unsettling. The birds are often dead, deformed or severed. Gill underscores the vulnerability of the bodies by incorporating scraps of fabric or patterns, notably filmy lace.

Gill’s fundamental subject is femininity, according to the gallery’s statement: “Her work attempts to reconcile how to be simultaneously feminine and natural.” It can also be seen, however, as illustrating the precariousness of existence and interconnectedness of nature. The way Gill incorporates the wood grain into her pictures suggests that the world’s parts, however damaged individually, can fit together.

Caitlin Gill: All Natural and Charma Le Edmonds: Untold Stories Gill to July 23 at Park View Gallery and Charma Le Edmonds to July 31 at Popcorn Gallery, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.

Framing Fatherhood

There are many visions of masculinity, and even a few glimpses of femininity, in “Framing Fatherhood.” But the exemplary motif in this show of crisp, well-composed pictures by 14 Black male photographers is of a powerful man cradling a small child. The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design show was curated by Imani M. Cheers and includes pictures by her father, D. Michael Cheers.

Mostly in color but sometimes black-and-white, the photos often employ tight cropping and narrow depth of field to exclude everyone but father and son. In a series by Reggie Cunningham, a man and a young boy cuddle in front of a simple aqua backdrop, and Reese Bland depicts a man holding a boy who’s pointing into a crowd that’s blurred into soft focus.

Other pictures depict boys surrounded by men, whether in Jamel Shabazz’s study of a baby and five men in African-style robes or Erskine Isaac’s dynamic shot of grinning celebrants at a formal-dress yet loose-vibed event. Visually, one of the standouts is D. Michael Cheers’s downward shot of a boy wearing a Spider-Man shirt and riding a webbed swing above a puddle that captures his shadow. The child is relishing an adventure, but is safely cradled within the frame.

Framing Fatherhood Through July 31 at Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University, 500 17th St. NW.

Stephen Estrada

The principal subject of Stephen Estrada’s show at Gallery Neptune & Brown is violence, but among its most appealing paintings is a vision of peacefulness. The ferocity depicted in “Endless Horizon” is that of waves rushing the shore, often under slate-gray skies. A longtime volunteer in hurricane relief efforts, Estrada knows the potential danger of squalling seas. But the intensity of oceanic storms clearly has some appeal to the Silver Spring artist, whose exhibition includes 16 small square oils that all depict hurricane-driven surf.

The strongest contrast to the hurricane suite is “Indian River,” a calming view of a waterway that meanders through a marsh, its tranquil surface mirroring the blue of the cloud-puffed sky above. Also quiet, if more dramatic, is “March Morning,” in which daybreak begins to dapple beads of light on a still-dark ocean. That picture is the loosest of these canvases, which are realistic and impressionistic in equal measure. Estrada deftly likens once-liquid pigment to surging waters, giving his seascapes a sense of latent power.

Stephen Estrada: Endless Horizon Through July 30 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to artist Charma Le Edmonds as Le Edmonds. Her first name is Charma Le, and her last name is Edmonds. The story has been corrected.

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