With their gestural brushstrokes atop grids of colored dots, Carol Brown Goldberg’s recent paintings are sort of a marriage of abstract expressionism and op art. But that hardly explains the appeal of these captivating canvases, which are precisely rendered and grandly romantic. The large paintings have a sense of depth that evokes the vastness of space, and glistening surfaces that result from the prolific Washington artist’s incorporation of pulverized glass.
Describing these works’ ingredients is not difficult. Rows of hand-painted dots generally frame a rectangular central field, and the dots shift in color — often subtly, but sometimes dramatically. The precisely aligned dots contrast with the freer daubs, which crackle like lightning, and the shifting light effects of the glass particles. Although the pictures have a central focus, they pull the eye in many directions. Streaks and gleams lead in random directions, while the multi-layered compositions conjure an illusion of infinite expanse.
This show also includes four aluminum sculptures of stacked multiple discs, the 3D equivalent of those dots. These are painted in shades of a single color, making them much simpler than the canvases they accompany. In the paintings, the eminently modern form of the dot (associated with painter Roy Lichtenstein) becomes part of something contemplative, even devotional.
In “Heroines, Angels, Muses,” Alfredo Ratinoff more directly draws on sacred and symbolic imagery. The Argentine-born Washington glass and ceramic artist is of Russian descent, a heritage that’s visible in such pieces as “The Passion of St. Michael.” Ratinoff bases some of his work on ancient models, as when he makes a series of vessels that reproduce the style of prehistoric pottery unearthed near the Caspian Sea. But the artist doesn’t limit himself to Slavic and Byzantine motifs. Among his heroines are Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Snow White.
Although Ratinoff’s historical and literary references are centuries old, his work brings a contemporary sensibility to traditional technique. Riffing on the condition of many archaeological finds, the artist presents original glass works that have been shattered and recombined; his “Muse of Revelation” is broken in half, with an intact painted image of its subject beneath the cleaved glass one. One of the show’s most alluring pieces, “City of the Midnight Sun,” takes a modern approach to stained glass; small red orbs circle the central image, catching the light. Surrounding an expressionistic urban scene that could be either a North African souk or a skyscraping metropolis, the red glimmers suggest not cathedral windows but traffic lights.
Temporary forms of housing are the motif of “Helter Shelter,” local photographer Maxwell MacKenzie’s engrossing show at the American Institute of Architects’ headquarters. These pictures of trailers, RVs and other simple dwellings are filled with contrast and paradox. The larger-than-large-format images illustrate the twin human impulses toward freedom and order, and how people arrange communities to both accommodate and disregard nature.
Some of the images were made from an ultralight plane, and a few show the photographer’s feet dangling into the frame. The aerial perspective allows sweeping views of epic terrain, mostly in Nevada and California, as well as of the unexpected tidiness of the annual Burning Man festival. Seen from above, the fest’s curved arrangement of RVs, tents, bicycles and small planes in the open desert appears as meticulous as the L’Enfant Plan. Photos of the event made from ground level depict Arabesque structures designed to be used for just a week, yet are larger and more opulently detailed than the tiny permanent homes MacKenzie found in a West Virginia trailer park and on piers along the Mississippi River in Minnesota.
Crisp, vast and detailed, MacKenzie’s pictures recall 19th-century landscape paintings. They include classical touches, such as framing a motocross rally in the craggy California desert with bikers at both extremes of the composition. But the photographer is as interested in homey details as in dramatic topography. A survey of 12 firmly planted trailers shows the gardens, steps, decorations and retaining walls that indicate both permanence and personality; the vehicles at a Florida RV park are lined up along canals as if the waterways were streets. Even when they’re camping out, humans can’t help but arrange themselves into makeshift cities and town.
Shaping bronze, steel and aluminum into sinuous forms, Pattie Porter Firestone does calligraphy in metal. That’s literally true of some of the pieces in “The Poetic Dimensions of Symbols and Shapes,” at the Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space. In strokes of bronze, Firestone renders the Chinese characters for such elemental terms as “fire,” “water” and “woman.” Two of these pieces play on the pictographs’s meanings: “Earth” is mounted on a slab of rock, while the central lines of “wind” dangle in the breeze.
Firestone also contrasts made and found substances in such pieces as “Poetic Spiral II,” a bronze spiral that ascends over a pile of stones. The same idea takes different forms in the sculptor’s “Above and Below” series, in which curling metal ribbons change color as they pass through the top of an outlined box. Solid yet delicate, Firestone’s artworks emphasize the metals’ natural properties while gracefully defying them.
The same show includes mixed-media works by Andrea Barnes, who combines abstract acrylic painting with recognizable images — cones, a seahorse, letters and numbers — that are collaged or printed into the image. Some of these pieces, especially the ones that are heavily gray, recall Jasper Johns’s work. But Barnes also uses brighter colors expressively, whether in the pretty “Cones” or the evocatively layered “Zi:k.”
On view through Jan. 11 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-338-5180; addisonripleyfineart.com.
on view through Jan. 12 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW; 202-338-4488; watergategalleryframedesign.com.
on view through Jan. 12 at American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Ave. NW, 202-626-7300; aia.org/practicing/AIAB095967.
on view through Jan. 12 at the Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-783-2963; zenithgallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.