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In the galleries: Vigorous statements by Black women artists

Four-woman show vividly explores ideology of the Black experience through various lenses

An installation view of “Color + Form = Blackstraction” includes, from left, “Migration of The Spirit” by Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter, “Say It Loud” by Adjoa J. Burrowes and “I'm Done #70" by Gail Shaw-Clemons. (Greg Staley/Honfleur Gallery)
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Tropical hues get a twist — in fact, lots of twists — in “Color + Form = Blackstraction,” an Honfleur Gallery show of jazzy work by four African American women whose styles neatly complement each other. The quartet of veteran artists, who call themselves Women of an Undetermined Age, are painters and printmakers. But they curl, drape and layer their mostly abstract pictures so that they achieve sculptural form and presence.

An unframed and unfurled painting by Sheila Crider, hung so that each end droops, offers the show’s exemplary title: “Shape Shifter.” Crider’s fluid creations are made with acrylic pigment on unprimed canvas, and often include smaller portions of painted fabric sewn to the main panel with vinyl cord. The strategy invokes the historical importance of women’s craft work.

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The other contributors work mostly on, and with, paper. Gail Shaw-Clemons makes monoprints of gradated colors and arranges them in two-ply stacks, with the top levels partly wound back or around to reveal the ones below. Wall-mounted or placed on pedestals, Adjoa J. Burrowes’s vividly patterned inventions are as elaborately folded as an accordion’s bellows, and often bedecked with ribbons. Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter’s contributions include Cubist-like 3D constructions and widely horizontal paintings punctuated by flurries of collage at their centers.

One of Gibson-Hunter’s pieces deviates from the show’s dominant color scheme by emphasizing black and dark blue, although it’s brightened by a touch of gold. Shaw-Clemons gingerly steps away from pure abstraction with a print that incorporates silhouetted leaf shapes. Such minor variations aside, “Blackstraction” is characterized foremost by the artists’ compatibility. These artworks employ many colors and take assorted forms, but they share a celebratory spirit.

Women of an Undetermined Age: Color + Form = Blackstraction Through Sept. 24 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE.

Gary Anthes

The pandemic was the occasion, and Bach’s partitas a source of inspiration, when Gary Anthes began to photograph still lifes in an abandoned structure on his property. “Partita Rustica — Life and Death in a Virginia Barn” are studies of objects placed before rough-grained wooden backdrops and illuminated, starkly but splendidly, by natural light. The sun plays a crucial, if entirely offstage, role in the Studio Gallery show.

While a wrench, a scythe and a mound of barbed wire are among Anthes’s subjects, most of the posed items are natural and many of them — as the show’s subtitle notes — are dead. Carcasses of birds and a small rabbit lie next to flower arrangements in lyrical funerary arrays, and a diptych shows the withering of dogweed leaves over just two days. In one somber composition, a pair of pumpkins, long past putrefaction, approach fossilization.

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The inevitability of death is a venerable artistic theme, underscored here by the fact that these pictures were made as millions died of covid. But there’s vitality as well in Anthes’s photos, some of which feature leaves and sprigs in fecund shades of green. The only things brighter are the broad planes and narrow shafts of light that enter the shadowy barn, testifying to the heat, glare and life that persist outside.

Gary Anthes: Partita Rustica — Life and Death in a Virginia Barn Through Sept. 24 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.

Steve Wanna

The artworks in Steve Wanna’s Touchstone Gallery show, “Transparent to Transcendence,” are miniature big-bangs. Inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the pictures are abstract space-scapes made by smashing plaster shells filled with liquid and powdered pigments atop panels painted in a single hue. These frozen blasts of color are basically paintings, but the Lebanese local artist’s process leaves sculptural clumps of paint and plaster shards near the center of the random compositions.

Wanna has been exhibiting pictures made this way for several years, but the examples at Touchstone are among the most striking. Many are circular, which suits the explosive format, and feature such arresting background colors as hot orange or fiery pink. Wanna switches to a black backdrop for the piece that’s most evocative of interstellar vistas, but all the paintings feature scattered pigment grains that dot the seemingly vast depths like clouds of distant stars.

The show also includes a site-specific installation that evokes space in a tidier way. A tall, skinny, black 3D rectangle is positioned against a section of a black wall, with the piece’s overwhelming darkness punctuated by a slit that glows with electric light from within. In contrast to the paintings, this stand-alone sculpture is precise and symmetrical. Yet, like all of Wanna’s pieces, it evokes mysteries of oblivion and creation.

Steve Wanna: Transparent to Transcendence Through Sept. 25 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW.

Tory Cowles

No actual flame illuminates Tory Cowles’s “Reflections: Fire on the Water,” but there is plenty of evidence of its former presence. The local artist’s Artists & Makers show centers on a fount filled with water in which partly melted but unlighted candles bob. (The vessel is in fact a lid to a 55-gallon drum, turned upside down.) Photographs document the fount when it did contain burning candles, their glowing wicks the only orange elements in a show that’s almost entirely black and silver.

Near the gallery’s entrance is a collage of recent newspaper stories about guns, election denial and climate issues, arrayed alongside the word “danger” stenciled in silver on black. This suggests the goal of the artworks: soothing the anger and anxiety spurred by “climate change, war and our political situation,” as Cowles wrote in an email. Most of the other pieces, however, are free of text.

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What unifies the show are its dramatic color scheme and the striking juxtaposition of found objects — man-made and natural, although the latter are painted silver to give them an industrial quality. One wall-mounted piece matches a nest of heavy black wire to a branch of metallic-tinted bamboo, and two collages include silvered leaves. The organic objects are denatured, yet by retaining their essential form they may express a degree of hope.

Tory Cowles: Reflections: Fire on the Water Through Sept. 21 at Artists & Makers, 11810 Parklawn Dr., Rockville.