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In the galleries: Biennial survey celebrates Mid-Atlantic artists of many mediums

"Subterranean Seamen" by Jessica VanBrakle, a cut-paper collage with ink and acrylic. This year’s exhibit, “(Not) Strictly Painting,” features artworks incorporating media beyond traditional methods. (McLean Project for the Arts)

For its 13th installment, the McLean Project for the Arts’ biennial local-artist survey has been retitled “(Not) Strictly Painting.” The added “not” doesn’t indicate a new approach; it simply acknowledges that the exhibition has long been open to more than painting. To judge by this selection, chosen by sculptor and teacher Foon Sham and museum curator Virginia Treanor, that’s for the best. Several of the 37-contributor show’s standouts are three-dimensional, even while many of the entries are merely a few wispy marks on paper or fabric.

Among the sculptural highlights are Sookkyung Park’s “Wave III,” a spiraling painted-origami construction that embodies inevitable change; George Lorio’s “Infolding,” a engineered yet treelike assemblage of found twigs and bark; Zofie King’s “Rozafa,” in which a chair back joins a molded hand and foot in an eerie part-human hybrid; and Milan Warner’s “Socket Colony,” an enigmatic yet seemingly organic clump of twine-edged shell shapes. Also 3-D, yet very nearly a painting, is Anne Cherubim’s “Thoughts of Spring,” a hanging array of translucent paint shards, suggesting a deconstructed stained-glass window.

The few figurative paintings include such striking works as Ally Morgan’s exquisitely detailed picture of a vividly blue fish; one of Maremi Andreozzi’s evocative portraits of silhouetted women in period dress; and S. Masao Nakazawa’s austere rendering of a spindly plant framed by barbed wire, an image that’s shorthand for the U.S. incarceration of people of Japanese descent during World War II. Even sparer is Dennis Lee Mitchell’s “Landscape,” a hint of mountains drawn entirely with soot from smoke.

Mitchell’s piece complements such equally stark but fully abstract pictures as Sarah Hardesty’s “Subduction,” which incises a tectonic pattern in oil stick on aluminum, and Carol Reed’s “Carbon Arch — Bad Faith,” which contrasts regular and irregular black-on-white forms. Both are one-dimensional, but with a sense of space that might be called sculptural.

(Not) Strictly Painting Through Nov. 13 at McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean.

Michael and Price

The show title “Adjacency Is a Kind of Order” at Formerly Was refers to the gallery’s linkage of the very different work of two D.C. artists, painter Maggie Michael and photographer Caitlin Teal Price. Yet the phrase can be seen as applying individually to Michael’s mixed-media abstractions and Price’s architectural studies.

Price’s studies are more self-evidently orderly. All five depict modern structures, made principally of concrete and scaled to the automobile. Three pictures scan the interiors of parking garages, another a parking lot and the last a highway framed by flyover ramps. The deep-shadowed spaces are starkly intriguing, and in two cases are occupied by a solitary woman. The presence of surveillance cameras adds another thematic level to the photos, which observe observing. The effect is to emphasize the locations’ impersonality while also conveying a sense of intimacy.

Various pigments — oil and acrylic paints and walnut ink are just a few — flow freely in Michael’s five mixed-media abstractions. Yet there’s a tidiness to how the various elements are juxtaposed, and sometimes set off by grid patterns. The palette is mostly earthy, which is underscored by cracks in surfaces that suggest dried mud and the use of actual dirt, stones and metal dust. The artist’s approach is clearly improvisational, but as the freewheeling yet poised “As for the Future” demonstrates, Michael knows exactly when to stop.

Maggie Michael and Caitlin Teal Price: Adjacency Is a Kind of Order: Pairing Painting and Photography Through Nov. 6 at Formerly Was, 4936 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

He and Karpowitz

The peony is an ancient subject for artists in China, where the flower symbolizes wealth and honor. Virginia artist Dongpei He, who is a native of China, paints peonies with a precision worthy of scientific illustration, but places the pink blossoms in loosely rendered environs. Most of the pictures in her Art League show, “The Principles of Nature,” foreground peonies in impressionistic landscapes that recall traditional Chinese landscape paintings.

More whimsically, several paintings make reference to He’s other career as a software developer by depicting the flowers’ stems and leaves as strings of vine-like 0s and 1s. That’s one of the ways the artist reaches across centuries and cultures to devise a style that’s well-precedented but gently idiosyncratic.

Faces are at the center of Tania Karpowitz’s paintings, although the pictures also are landscapes of a sort. Most of the portraits in the artist’s “Headlands” show, also at the Art League, are extreme close-ups in rich, dark grays and browns. The goal is to “breach the irregular, jagged edge that exists between person and place,” explains the gallery’s note. One still life of fruit is twinned with another painting in which a single pear partly blocks a woman’s face. The two objects and the stormy sky behind them all merge into a sensuous dance of shadow and light.

Dongpei He: The Principles of Nature and Tania Karpowitz: Headlands Through Nov. 7 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

Brave Spaces

Reacting to the turbulence of 2020, artist and curator Tim Davis conceived “Brave Spaces: An Artist’s Collaboration in Resilience” for Sebrof-Forbes Cultural Arts Center, a large gallery in a converted office building. The 32-artist show is as sprawling as the two-floor venue, but studded with notable works, many of which speak to Black experiences.

“Little Girl Flying,” a print by the late Michael Platt, symbolizes aspiration and overcoming, while Anne Bouie’s fabric and found-object assemblages invoke African heritage. So do Claudia (Aziza) Gibson Hunter’s exuberant sculptural collages, which her statement says express resistance to forces that “attempt to constrain the African mind, body and spirit.” Many pieces react to police violence, and not just in the United States: Photographer Betty Press portrays people affected by extrajudicial executions in Kenya.

Yet there are visions of serenity. Both Sawsan Chalabi and Kay Chernush depict isolation as an opportunity to savor stillness, finding peace in nature and their interior lives. That, too, is a form of resilience.

Brave Spaces: An Artist’s Collaboration in Resilience Through Dec. 19 at Sebrof-Forbes Cultural Arts Center, 3535 University Blvd. West, Kensington.

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