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In the galleries: Acronyms as content encode a powerful commentary

Installation shot of "David-Jeremiah: I.A.H.Y.F.F.A.W.D. / N.F.D.B.J.W.B.D" at von ammon co. (Vivian Doering)

Arrayed neatly in Von Ammon Co.’s expansive space, David-Jeremiah’s recent sculptural paintings appear to be cool, formalist exercises. They’re not. The shaped, two-toned pieces are in fact cryptic testaments to the Dallas artist’s rage.

The message is hidden in the show’s title, “I.A.H.Y.F.F.A.W.D. / N.F.D.B.J.W.B.D.” According to a gallery statement, the initials stand for two versions of a phrase the Black artist will never specify but represent “the most toxic, hateful and racist sentence [he] could get off [his] chest at the time toward White people.” The inscriptions feature in half of the artworks, each of which is paired with a text-free one with the same contours and color scheme.

David-Jeremiah began with the pieces that include the abbreviations, the second of which expresses the same sentiment as the first, but rendered in Dallas slang. The letters look to be etched roughly into the painted surfaces of the plywood sheets, which are cut to mimic the hoods of Lamborghini sports cars (a boyhood fixation). Actually, the letters are raised, as are other gestures that suggest dents and scratches. The artist paints without brushes, using scraping tools to manipulate enamel paint similar to the pigment used on actual car bodies.

After some visitors to his studio reacted defensively to his new works, David-Jeremiah responded with a second series linked by color, but painted in varied, complex and sometimes more textured arrangements. He calls the lettered ones “Externalized” (anger in your face) and the others “Internalized” (anger in his gut).

In most cases, an “Externalized” is positioned atop its counterpart, suggesting preeminence. Gallery visitors, however, might prefer the “Internalizeds.” The former are raw and ardent. The latter are inventive, unexpected and open-ended. They manifest a source of artistic power other than wrath.

David-Jeremiah: I.A.H.Y.F.F.A.W.D. / N.F.D.B.J.W.B.D. Through April 25 at Von Ammon Co., 3330 Cady’s Alley NW.

Saunders and Hutchison

To convey the myriad dimensions of the human form, Noah James Saunders and Scott Hutchison have each devised innovative techniques. Saunders uses black steel wire to construct hanging 3-D drawings that are defined as much by absence as presence. Hutchison overlaps multiple views, usually of the same person, a cubist strategy tempered by a realist style and neoclassical oil-painting technique.

“It’s like basket weaving,” Saunders recently told a visitor to “Sculpting Shadow,” one of the first shows at Amy Kaslow Gallery, a new venue in Spring Valley. The weaving is free-form and intuitive, though. Some of the Georgia artist’s statues are contained within circles, rectangles or cross-hatched grids, but the most vivid ones have no boundaries. All begin with an eye: Saunders builds outward from a single orb, using photos of complete strangers as models while knitting the wires freehand. He uses the shadows that the piece casts to guide his progress.

A gay man and an LGBT advocate, Saunders portrays only males, whether human or supernatural. (The arresting “Midnight Visitor” is a charismatic satyr with a goatee and antlers.) Most of the sculptures in this selection are busts, limited to shoulders, heads and extravagances of curly hair. But there is one three-quarters nude, “Selfie,” in which a man displays himself to a cellphone. It’s an explicitly corporeal moment, rendered in a few supple twists of wire.

Among the recent Hutchison paintings in “Flux,” at Fred Schnider Gallery of Art, are several that recall his earlier work. A fine example is the circular “Dreamtank,” in which a pastel-skinned female nude in a fetal position is split into four partly overlaid figures. The image suggests that both body and mind are in process, whether actually or symbolically. Such pictures are “meant to evoke the idea that our identity is in flux,” Hutchison told gallery-goers recently.

His latest paintings feature bolder, less naturalistic colors — notably clanging reds and greens — more muscular poses and the increased prominence of hands. (Two smaller pictures show only those.) Hands help create visual movement, noted the Arlington, Va., artist, who teaches at Georgetown University. Where the subject of “Dreamtank” seems impelled by larger forces, the clenched-fist figure in “Sentinel” declares his autonomy.

Hutchison’s experience as an animator informs his approach. He takes about 100 photos of a model, who’s allowed to choose her or his own poses, and then overlays them with photo-editing software until he finds the arrangement he wants to paint. The results are as stately as a Renaissance canvas, yet with an underlying sense of motion. In “Flux,” no aspect of humanity is fixed.

Noah James Saunders: Sculpting Shadow Through April 25 at Amy Kaslow Gallery, 4300 Fordham Rd. NW. Scott Hutchison: Flux Through April 24 at Fred Schnider Gallery of Art, 888 N. Quincy St., Arlington.

Adia Millett

Adia Millet’s show at Morton Fine Art is divided into fabric pieces and paintings, but the two categories overlap in theme and appearance. Almost all of the works include one or more circles that represent the heavenly body invoked in the exhibition’s title, “The Moon Is Always Full.” And two of the paintings arrange scraps of color as if they were pieces of material.

Millett often begins by disassembling cloth items, with the idea of symbolically reconstructing African American experience and identity. (She also tweaks White outlooks in the show’s least colorful and only circle-less entry, “OWF,” which stands for “off-white fragility.”) The California artist has a strong sense of form but little apparent interest in sheer abstraction. “Gold Roof” is little more than a triangle, a circle and several rectangles, but these elements are transmuted into a house under a full-moon sky by deft composition and the insertion of two 3-D model windows.

Just as streamlined are “Reflection,” a landscape-like picture that seems to be as much stitched as painted, and “Portal,” in which a blue round resembles the moon behind striated clouds, but also a cell or an egg. Any of those possibilities are apt, since Millett’s essential concerns include renewal and regeneration.

Adia Millett: The Moon Is Always Full Through April 22 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302.

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