The son of a Japanese American father and a European Canadian mother, Nakashima was born in Seattle shortly before Pearl Harbor. Because his father was in the U.S. Medical Corps, he and his family were not sent to a camp. But many of his relatives were incarcerated, a legacy that Nakashima still, in a sense, inhabits.
The artist, who taught at Catholic University for more than two decades, didn’t visit Japan for the first time until he was in his late 40s. But long before that, he studied the country’s artistic heritage, elements of which he incorporates assuredly. While Nakashima’s mode of painting is fundamentally Western, his pictures employ Asian motifs and objects to diverse ends. Thus a two-sided, Japanese-style decorative screen portrays not such customary subjects as flowers or birds, but rather the imprisoned Joan of Arc, heroine of both France and the Catholic church in which Nakashima was raised.
Most of the pieces in this selection depict simple things in a complex manner and on an imposing scale. (“I had this feeling that a painting should be bigger than a human being,” Nakashima says in a video on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website.) The pictures are tactile and densely tiered, with collaged newspaper and magazine pages sometimes embedded among the strata. The artworks give the impression of being mostly in shades of earth, ash and night, but bright colors are partly submerged in paintings such as the vast and intricately layered “Westwood Nocturne.”
Faces as well as vivid hues are hidden in that picture, but people rarely appear in these works. Most often featured are buildings and log piles, heaps that appear both random and architectural; rarer are fish (symbolizing the artist’s Japanese spirit) or turtles. Yet even mute wooden logs and beams appear to teem with life in Nakashima’s art, whose depths are historical as well as stylistic.
Tom Nakashima Through May 2 at Terzo Piano, 1515 14th St. NW. Open by appointment.
She actually arrived from Chicago, not the future, but A.J. McClenon wants visitors to “Notes From Vega” to imagine she’s bringing the news from 2112. Part of the multidisciplinary artist’s ongoing project, the show uses collages, drawings and a map made of braided yarn to express “the resilience of Black people and their ability to adapt and evolve in any circumstance.” That’s according to a statement by the Nicholson Project, where the D.C.-bred McClenon is in the midst of a four-month residency.
McClenon also is a writer, and her Vega fable supposes a devastated Earth. Some people are fleeing to space, while others seek refuge under the ocean. The seas are fields of bright blue in the paper-and-plastic collages, which also include clippings from fashion magazines and a medical book about the brain. Rather than fused into a cohesive new whole, the collage ingredients are unruly and enigmatic.
The tale McClenon allusively recounts is speculative but not entirely abstract, as she demonstrates with the blue-yarn map of Mid-Atlantic waterways. It represents the planned voyage of the Pearl, the schooner on which 77 enslaved people attempted to escape from D.C. to New Jersey in 1848. McClenon’s prophecy of a desperate future exodus is rooted in dire American history.
A.J. McClenon: Notes From Vega Through April 25 at the Nicholson Project, 2310 Nicholson St. SE.
Guillemin, Bearss and Prete
Ideal for a pandemic-era stroll, the large paintings in Studio Gallery’s front room offer immersive scenes of woodlands. The areas depicted are mostly on the U.S. East Coast, but include a bird’s-eye view of a rustic bit of France, local artist Thierry Guillemin’s homeland. The show is titled “When Time Stops,” a reference to covid-19’s disruption of everyday life but also an acknowledgment of the calming effects of a forested landscape.
A ramble down Maryland’s bucolic “Fiddlers Hill Road” is just one possible journey, whether geographic or stylistic. Where that picture’s technique is nearly photorealist, other paintings are rendered more loosely. There’s even an abstract canvas tucked away in the backroom, not far from a close-up of wooden water ladles outside a Shinto shrine in Tokyo. When fixed with a time-stopping gaze, even the world’s largest city can yield moments of serenity.
Cheryl Ann Bearss also paints arboreal scenes, including a charming series of muted, hazy miniatures of ground cover. But the most striking pictures in the Northern Virginia artist’s “Voices of the Forest,” downstairs at Studio, are of individual trees. These stylized renderings strip away the soil to reveal root structures that mirror the branch systems above. Each one as excellently proportioned as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” Bearss’s free-floating trees are visions of a perfect universe.
Trained as a traditional metalsmith in his native Italy, Davide Prete makes small bronzes that are well represented in “Minimal Surfaces,” also at Studio. But the show’s standouts are 3-D-printed sculptures given heft and grit by being made with sand, epoxy and aluminum powder rather than the usual plastic. These include a tower made of intricately looping tentacles, shown at Gallery B in February, and “David’s Hand,” in which similarly curving strands cohere into fingers and a thumb.
Prete, who teaches at both Catholic University and the University of the District of Columbia, is also showing computer-generated prints that demonstrate the high-tech origins of his 3-D-printed creations. What’s most remarkable about his machine-made sculptures, though, is the way they combine clean lines with earthy substance.
Thierry Guillemin: When Time Stops; Cheryl Ann Bearss: Voices of the Forest; and Davide Prete: Minimal Surfaces Through April 24 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.