Maud Taber-Thomas is no modernist, but then she doesn’t live in the modern world. Or rather, she does, but her thoughts are elsewhere. Taber-Thomas’s “The Light That She Loves,” a selection of realist oil paintings at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, was inspired by British writers, mostly of the Victorian period. There are likenesses of Orlando, from Virginia Woolf’s novel of that name, and Isabel Archer, the Henry James character. The words of Oscar Wilde; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and John Donne (the last a couple of centuries earlier than the others) are also translated into pictures.
The obvious antecedent to Taber-Thomas’s approach is the 19th-century pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, whose artists also intended to turn back the clock. Although her style is sometimes looser than theirs, the painter shares their interest in literary themes and classical techniques. Such precisely rendered pictures as “Damsel With a Dulcimer II” (inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”) could hang compatibly with the work of such Pre-Raphaelites as Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Sometimes, though, Taber-Thomas takes a freer approach, painting such subsidiary details as Archer’s skirt and gloves with an Impressionist-like spontaneity. The artist, a Washingtonian who used to live in New York, has also executed a series of tiny but detailed landscapes and still lifes on a contemporary medium: MetroCards, New York’s filmier equivalent of D.C.’s SmarTrip. Yet many other of these paintings are on panels, suitably traditional backdrops for artworks that look smartly to the past.
The Light That She Loves: Maud Taber-Thomas On view through Oct. 11 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-965-4601; www.callowayart.com.
Also a realist of sorts, Sheep Jones specializes in flowers, animals and simple dual-pitched-roof structures — all evocative of Maine, where the Washington-area artist has a part-time home. The paintings in Jones’s show at Gallery Plan B are oils, yet they suggest prints, both in their studied compositions and their boldly unnaturalistic use of color. Individual objects, whether organic or human-made, are depicted accurately but arranged as the artist pleases, not as they might be in a conventional landscape.
The show includes portraits of women in guises, such as the Queen of Hearts, that are a little too quaint. But humans don’t figure in most of the pictures, which are more likely to highlight birds or insects. The influence of scientific illustration is sometimes evident, as when Jones uses artistic X-ray vision to show the growth of vegetables both above and below ground simultaneously.
The show’s motif, however, is that rudimentary house, both as an element in larger paintings and as the actual shape for a series of small pictures painted on five-sided, pointed-roof panels. The easily recognizable form allows the artist the freedom to paint loosely within and around it. Like Andy Warhol’s soup cans or Jasper Johns’s targets, Jones’s houses are both a link to everyday life and a path to abstraction.
Sheep Jones On view through Oct. 12 at Gallery Plan B, 1530 14th St. NW; 202-234-2711; www.galleryplanb.com.
In Sheila Pree Bright’s photographs, foreign-born Americans use the Stars and Stripes in various manners. One man, identified as Korean Mexican, seems to be vomiting the flag, or perhaps he’s inhaling it. Either way, the irreverence is typical of “Baggage Claim: Unpacking Immigrant Lives,” an exhibition at the District of Columbia Arts Center whose 10 artists from across the country were selected by curator Gia Harewood. The overall tone is playful, even conciliatory. When printmaker Favianna Rodriguez presents the slogan “migration is beautiful,” it’s with a bright yellow image of a butterfly.
American symbols are up for grabs, as seems only right in a nation that perpetually redefines itself. Andrea Cauthen, American-born to Jamaican parents, combines blue rectangles and red stripes with photographs and sometimes such words as “deporta.” In Venezuelan-born Vanessa “Agana” Espinoza’s large woodblock, a Mesoamerican Statue of Liberty holds up an ear of corn rather than a lamp. Alonzo Davis, a native of Alabama, presents a canoe form bathed in watery blue light as an emblem of immigration, especially from the Caribbean.
While such artists identify with back stories that are not their own, others focus on the personal. Indian-born Ruee Gawarikar’s mixed-media meditation on identity shows an Expressionist-style face fractured into unevenly arranged squares. Photographer Jerry Truong, whose heritage is Vietnamese, offers intimate views of his family in commonplace situations. Truong’s grainy black-and-white images are intentionally raw. Yet, in subject if not style, the picture of a father cutting his young son’s hair is a Norman Rockwell moment.
Baggage Claim: Unpacking Immigrant Lives On view through Oct. 12 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW, 202-462-7833, www.dcartscenter.org.
Simple, repeated gestures accumulate into something bigger in the artwork in “Timeless Remnants” at Morton Fine Art. Washington’s GA Gardner combines collage and painting, assembling and then embellishing constructions on large sheets of Mylar. Maya Freelon Asante dyes tissue paper with ink in a process akin to that of batik fabric design. The most striking of the Baltimorean’s pieces is “Migration,” which pits a central white blot, with glimmers of pink, against its saturated green background.
Choichun Leung’s medium, acrylic paint on canvas, could be described as more conventional, but it yielded the show’s standout, “Tuesday.” That picture, like the Brooklyn artist’s other offerings, arrays J-shaped brushstrokes atop a multi-layered field. Leung’s paintings are primarily in shades of white and gray, punctuated by swoops of bright color. Both the hues and gestures imbue the composition with energy, yet the painting also has a contemplative feel. While “timeless” might not be perfect description of “Tuesday,” the picture does seem to both freeze and elude the moment.
Timeless Remnants On view through Oct. 17 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW; 202-628-2787; www.mortonfineart.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.