The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Works of art emerge via waking up with a word in mind

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As a painter, Robin Rose has often followed musical cues, naming his abstractions after songs that prompted them. He works in encaustic, a mix of pigment and hot wax that requires a quick hand and whose immediacy has “a sonic quality,” he told a recent visitor to Hemphill Artworks. Yet the veteran local artist’s new “19 Paintings” hatched from text.

The minimalist yet vibrant pictures were made while Rose cocooned for much of 2020 in a Delaware beach house, at a remove from the pandemic and the election. Each painting began with a single word that came to him while half-awake. Seeing the paintings as documentation of the period, Rose is exhibiting them in the order they were created.

Although the pictures are recognizably Rose’s, some are distinct from earlier work in striking ways. As before, they’re painted on linen in allover patterns and mounted on aluminum panels. But a few of the pictures are brighter — “Configure” is positively sunny — or feature such stronger color contrasts as the red and green of “Dissonance.” The orange-and-red “Vex” twists the linen into a starburst pattern, and “Cake” does look a bit like icing.

Others of the 19 are, of course, quieter. “Nestle” submerges dark greens and blues into near-blackness, while “Breath” is a matched set of panels whose blue turns softer on the outward sides. The picture isn’t an illustration of its title, but it does seem suitably airy.

Also at Hemphill is “Listen to the Night as It Makes Itself Hollow,” 14 lustrous new paintings by local artist Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi. Aside from three on paper that are energized by unexpected Day-Glo pinks and oranges, most are in Ilchi’s familiar style. They’re dominated by abstract, near-liquid swirls of rich greens and blues, contrasted by small fairy-tale landscapes and jewel-like fragments that seem torn from the illuminated manuscripts of Ilchi’s native Iran. The paintings express a desire for grand adventure, but also a need to be rooted in nature and tradition.

Robin Rose: 19 Paintings and Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi: Listen to the Night as It Makes Itself Hollow Through May 28 at Hemphill Artworks, 434 K St. NW. Open by appointment.

Liz Tran

Seattle artist Liz Tran drips and spatters candy-colored paint and ink on wooden panels with equal measures of abandon and precision. The abstract pictures in her Morton Fine Art show, “The Webs Installed by Our Dreams,” offer vigorous spontaneity and robust compositions, the latter often inspired by Rorschach test inkblots administered to her when she was a child. Yet minor tweaks to Tran’s formula yield very different effects.

Most of the paintings are rectangular and rendered on white backdrops. Even the loosest of them seem focused on a middle point, but that centeredness is accentuated in the two pictures on circular panels. Adding a colored background, especially the black of “Ornament 7,” also makes Tran’s free gestures more cohesive. So does moving the pictorial activity to the top of the frame in “Bluescape.”

One other painting offers a fruitful variation. “Big Bang 3” is hardly out of place in this selection, but its oscillating, concentric forms suggest something quite different from a Rorschach test inkblot: a Hindu or Buddhist mandala. Rather than one person’s untidy reveries, the picture evokes an orderly cosmos.

Liz Tran: The Webs Installed by Our Dreams Through May 27 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302. Open by appointment.

Anne Smith and Ephemeral Systems

Pencil lines connect the nature drawings in Anne C. Smith’s “18 Meditations” to much of the work in the five-artist “Ephemeral Systems,” whose pieces were selected by Smith. The two shows hang in adjacent rooms at Adah Rose Gallery.

The bulk of Smith’s wintry drawings were made in colored pencil and show bare trees in a forest. Primarily in tans and grays, the gentle pictures spotlight shadows as much as the trunks that cast them. More dramatic, albeit in a subtle way, are four black-on-black renderings of individual trees. For these, Smith combined graphite and charcoal, rubbing the latter over shapes scratched in the paper. Differentiated mostly by their relative shininess, the two media juxtapose in silhouettes of ghostly beauty.

“Ephemeral Systems” includes pictures by two artists who worked entirely in pencil: Sarah Dolan, who precisely renders her daughter’s toys in disarray or artfully organized, and Adam Liam Rose, whose depictions of holes, caves and buried rooms meld fantasy with archaeological rigor. Half of Blade Wynne’s drawings are in pencil and the others in crayon, a natural medium for someone who teaches second-graders. Mojdeh Rezaeipour draws by burning into wood, to which she also collages items. Nikki Brugnoli begins with screen prints, adding paint strokes and pencil lines. Though principally abstract, two of her pictures include the image of a shed whose profile is as lucid as any of Smith’s trees.

Anne C. Smith: 19 Meditations and Ephemeral Systems Through May 30 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington.

Zughaib and Huffman

Among the themes of Beirut-born artist Helen Zughaib is the place of women in traditional Arab society. They are often “Inside Looking Out,” as in Zughaib’s gouache of a woman confined by stylized floral vines. That picture is on display at Watergate Gallery, where it lends its title to a show of large paintings by Zughaib and small sculptures by J. Ford Huffman.

The two artists, who both live near the gallery, share an interest in enclosures. Huffman’s found-object assemblages use boxes to stage miniature vignettes, often of domestic interiors or architectural vistas. The vistas include Mondrian-inspired constructions and a surrealistic cityscape whose gridded map is the base for industrial metal pieces set upright to impersonate skyscrapers. Visual wit is common, but there’s also wistfulness to Huffman pieces such as “Looking Out on the Morning Flames,” in which a tiny figurine gazes at the chaotic world just outside her window.

The view is more serene in Zughaib’s “Dreaming Window,” through which a woman ponders the sea. Yet many of the artist’s new pictures employ her usual style, brilliantly hued and influenced by 1960s Pop Art, to address painful recent events. “Shout!” depicts nine women, all in black shrouds but with different skin tones and disparate face masks. Where eight of the masks feature colorful decorative motifs, the ninth starkly reads, “I can’t breathe.”

Helen Zughaib & J. Ford Huffman: Inside Looking Out Through May 29 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW.

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