The Nebraskan doesn’t emulate the technique of the Washington painters, notably Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, who came to prominence six decades ago. Where they stained watery acrylic paint into canvas, Crotty mixes pigments with modeling paste to make a thick syrup. This he manipulates with large sheets of clear plastic, pushing the mixture across the fabric in surges. The resulting pictures feature both single-hue expanses and half-submerged colors that glimmer below the surface like metallic gravel under a stream. Around the soft edges of the paintings, which are finished with gloss gel, the pigment-paste mix resembles melted wax.
To judge just by the vivid, mostly aquamarine “I Didn’t Think You Would Feel This Way,” the D.C. colorist whose style is closest to Crotty’s is Leon Berkowitz . Both artists’ pictures appear luminous and liquid, with edge-less gestures that flow into each other like ocean currents. Rather than glorify flatness, Crotty plumbs visual depths.
Yet there’s another element, up-to-date if perhaps inadvertent, in Crotty’s painting, whose LED-bright hues and repeated motifs suggest computer-generated imagery. (There’s even a painting titled “Add a New Layer,” a Photoshop command.) Regular in pattern yet soft and distorted, such Crotty pictures as “Keep Your Distance” recall the digital-glitch abstractions of Colby Caldwell, the Maryland photographer who’s also exhibited at Hemphill.
The stylistic breakthrough of the Washington colorists relied on a just-invented technology: acrylic paint. Crotty’s painting doesn’t employ brand-new materials, yet seems to have assimilated the look of digital imagery. It’s as easy to glimpse pixels as waves in his fluid color-scapes.
Ryan Crotty Through Nov. 14 at Hemphill Artworks, 434 K St. NW. Open by appointment.
Most of the artists who show at Von Ammon Co. have a love-hate relationship with contemporary American advertising and marketing. Timur Si-Qin shares their fascination, but not their cynicism. His “Take Me, I Love You” borrows Madison Avenue’s tools to make a pitch that’s earnest and even cosmic. The New York-based artist’s photography and sculpture show touts “New Peace,” billed by the gallery as “a new form of spirituality in the face of global pandemics, climate change and biodiversity collapse.” It teaches immanence, or “all is one.”
“New Peace” was seeded by Si-Qin’s personal experience. He was born in Berlin to a Chinese Mongolian father and a German mother; she later married a man from the San Carlos Apache tribe and moved to Arizona with her then-8-year-old son. The high desert’s influence on Si-Qin can be seen in the show’s five large CGI renders of an idealized arid landscape. A massive tree encountered on a trip to Peru inspired another piece, a 3-D-printed sculpture of the organism’s gnarled root structure.
What Si-Qin proposes is a sort of cyber-age animism that rejects traditional Western divisions between human and nature, mind and body, and life and death. The principles he extols — “have faith in pattern,” for example — are etched cleanly in white and green into overlapping plexiglass panels. These incorporate the forms of trees, animals and a shell as well as text.
Skeptics may note that there are no natural objects in Si-Qin’s pristine, impeccably manufactured art: The sculptures are plastic and the landscapes are CGI. But the artist has rejected the distinction as arbitrary, arguing in an interview with Coeval magazine that “the simulated and virtual are just another branch on the tree of reality.”
Still, Si-Qin’s approach is not exactly one of Zen-like acceptance. In that same interview, he explained why he prefers computer-made pictures: “In a render the things you see are closer to 100 percent controllable, as opposed to a photograph which involves a large element of unintended randomness.” Si-Qin’s new theology may hold that all is one, but apparently it leaves room for the artist as godlike creator.
Timur Si-Qin: Take Me, I Love You Through Nov. 15 at Von Ammon Co., 3330 Cady’s Alley NW.
Baltimore artist Rosa Leff has what are called, in the world of culinary competition, knife skills. Rather than chop foodstuffs, though, Leff carves detailed vignettes from single pieces of paper. Her contributions to several recent local group shows were mostly silhouettes of busy street scenes, derived from her own photographs. But she can cut more than one way, as she demonstrates in “Expectation/Reality,” her witty solo show at Art League. Inspired by life in semi-lockdown, the artist’s recent work ponders — and transforms — the mundane and the domestic.
The facades of funky restaurants, lounges and supermarkets are favorite Leff subjects, and several are depicted here. Since March, however, people have been eating a lot more takeout, a circumstance the artist acknowledges by enlisting such materials as paper cups, plates and towels. (For the office-oriented, she also hews manila file folders.) Leff turns such throwaway items into lacy keepsakes, or adds simulated bites and cracks to disposable dishes. “Look Honey, I Cooked” embellishes a plate with a cutout dragon, a symbol of power, wisdom and Chinese carryout.
Leff sometimes highlights the intricate patterns she’s snipped by placing cutouts in front of colored backdrops, or mounting them on glass so they cast shadows on the wall behind them. A cut-paper crown sits inside a glass box, as if in a museum display of regal artifacts. But this mock treasure’s only jewel-like aspect is the action of Leff’s X-Acto knife.
Rosa Leff: Expectation/Reality Through Sunday at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.