Straight lines haven’t entirely vanished from D.C. galleries, but it does seem that many local artists have packed away their protractors. Cross MacKenzie Gallery has even built a group show on the phenomenon. “Twisted” features the enticing curves of five artists whose work draws on natural forms. The pieces complement one another well, especially in the view from the front of the one-room gallery, which pits the vertical against the horizontal: Laurel Lukaszewski’s “Envy” is a cluster of ceramic strands that hangs, vinelike and nearly ceiling-high, in front of Lyn Horton’s “Opening Out,” a monumental drawing whose gouache and pencil lines gnarl sideways to the very edges of the wall.
Horton’s background includes executing wall drawings to the specifications of New York minimalist Sol Lewitt, whose art is known for its linearity but became looser in the final years before his 2007 death. Her “Loop Series” twirls further away from Euclidean shapes; the drawings are still minimalist but with a sensuous ease. They’re less stark than John H. Brown’s high-contrast photographs of wisteria vines, which divide the black-on-white shapes among interlocking panels. (His “Magnolia Series,” while not exactly more naturalistic, offers more detail and color.)
Actual vines and branches frame mirrors in pieces by Charles Anthony, a sculptor and architect. Whimsical yet usable, these pieces are furniture foremost, yet they’re put together in ways that preserve as much as possible of the wood’s original bends. Ellen Wagener’s small pastels of tornadoes reduce nature’s ferocity to a manageable size, but much of the work in this show seems ready and able to outgrow the space.
The cherry blossoms are gone, and so is the National Gallery’s Ito Jakuchu exhibition, which proved to be one of the spring’s biggest flower shows. But there’s still another week to see “Blossom DC,” a selection of prints (and one painting) celebrating the pinks of spring. Most of the pieces are local and recent, but the oldest is a Childe Hassem lithograph that dates to 1910. It’s one of the few that incorporates the human form, with a discreet nude amid the foliage.
As the Old Print Gallery regularly demonstrates, printmaking is a versatile medium. Su-Li Hung’s woodcut, “St. Mark’s Church and Cherry Blossoms,” simplifies its urban scene to a black steeple and two patches of pink. (Hung’s painting, “Taiwan Cherry Tree,” has a much richer palette.) Philip Bennet’s “Swirls,” an oil-based monotype, is more colorful and fluid, suggesting the softness of brushwork rather than the sharpness of engraver’s tools. Amid all the pastel tones, Susan Goldman’s “Dark Blossom” offers a strong contrast. Its single blossom is bright red and off-center in a mostly black composition, producing a visual tension that’s dramatic, if not very springlike.
The owl and the pussycat are the most often depicted twosome in Kathy Beynette’s paintings at Gallery Plan b, but there are other odd couples, as well. The show takes its name, “Dis Donc!,” from a pair of French-speaking bunnies, who join “Scratch and Sniff” (a cat and a dog), the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood (not exactly as you’d expect) and Batman and Robin (a visual gag that has to be seen to be appreciated).
The artist uses bright, cheerful colors, and some of these paintings would be appropriate for a day-care center. But not all of them. “Animal Crackers” arrays postage-stamp-size renderings of about 80 critters, one of which is a nude woman. This is one of the few larger paintings, which recall the vivid hues and simple forms of Marc Chagall’s later work. However kid-friendly her subject matter, Beynette is a real painter, who adds wax and pencil to oil paint, and sometimes scrapes the pigment to produce more complex textures. These simple, cartoonish images register quickly, but Beynette’s technique adds depth to their surface appeal.
Three large pastels of rubber duckies greet visitors to Target Gallery, where a juried group show is having some fun with puppets, pull toys, dollhouses and the like. Selected from all over the country, the 12 contributors repurpose traditional toys such as wooden blocks but also use such common contemporary-art amusements as stop-action video. Some of the works are meant to be interactive, but many are designated as untouchable, which certainly reduces their playfulness.
Seamus Liam O’Brien, who actually grew up in a circus family, drew the duckies, as well as posters for an imaginary circus whose performing animals are stuffed toys. For the more ominous “Florida, Flora and Fauna,” Christopher Nitsche grouped a mass of plastic action figures — including some trademarked pop-culture icons — atop plastic fronds, with toy alligators lurking below. It’s the most biting piece in a show that’s otherwise more diverting than provocative.
There’s a childlike quality to Ernests Klavins’s small paintings, three of which are included in “Important Contemporary Artists of Latvia” at that nation’s embassy. The painter uses elementary forms and colors, although sometimes with grown-up intentions: “Lenin Leaves the Station” bids farewell to the father of Soviet communism. Such commentary is not typical of the exhibition, whose prevailing style is figurative and which highlights several painters who work large.
Harijs Brants’s charcoal portraits, so detailed that they initially look like photographs, reward close attention. So do the paintings of Miervaldis Polis, whose meticulous work has a surrealist sensibility. But the show is dominated by Andris Eglitis and Daiga Kruze, both of whom contribute canvases redolent of the north woods. Kruze paints more loosely to craft pictures such as “Animals,” which foregrounds a wolflike form against a twilight sky of glowing pink and orange. Eglitis’s “Living Conditions” series includes a dark forest scene whose use of light suggests Rembrandt, although his interior views of modest kitchens (sometimes populated, sometimes not) are more akin to Hopper. The influence of socialist realism seems to linger in both artists’ work, but with an individual, rather than collective, outlook.
on view through May 16 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 2026 R St. NW; 202-333-7070; www.crossmackenzie.com
on view through May 11 at the Old Print Gallery, 1220 31st St. NW; 202-965-1818; www.oldprintgallery.com
on view through May 13 at Target Gallery, 105 N. Union St., 703-838-4565, Ext. 4, www.torpedofactory.org/
on view through May 13 at Gallery
Plan b, 1530 14th St. NW; 202-234-2711; www.galleryplanb.com
on view through May 12 at the Embassy of Latvia, 2306 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202-328-2840; www.latvia-usa.org