It’s not an official secret, but the CIA’s collection of Washington-colorist paintings is a bit mysterious. The abstract pictures by Howard Mehring, Thomas Downing, Alma Thomas and others were initially loaned by the late Vincent Melzac, possibly a more colorful figure than any of the local artists he championed. Eleven of the paintings were eventually bought by the CIA — whose website depicts only two of them — while others were recalled by Melzac’s estate. These include four of the seven Mehring canvases in Connersmith’s “Brilliance.”

Made between 1957 and 1962, all of the paintings employ Magna, a then-new acrylic paint. Mehring (who died in 1978) diluted the pigment into watery shades and poured and dripped it onto absorbent canvas. The two earliest works here, which include the show’s namesake, are gestural in the manner of abstract expressionism. They suggest motion and produce a sense of distance between background and foreground. Three others are covered entirely in gently pulsing blots in a narrow range of colors, a mode the artist called “allover.”

There’s also 1961’s “Random,” made by cutting several allover paintings into rectangular shapes and piecing them together. This technique allowed Mehring to juxtapose color fields — in this case, gold and blue — with simple geometric shapes. This is one of the first appearances of hard edges in Washington colorism, which was known for being soft and fluid. (The gallery is also showing a dynamic 1968 stripe painting by Gene Davis, whose best-known work is the hardest-edged of the period’s D.C. painters.)

The least-expected painting in the selection is “Diagonal,” whose inky black surface is the result of overlapping streaks of many colors, notably an oblique slice of almost submerged orange. The picture was made in 1958, the same year that the better-known Morris Louis painted most of his multilayered “Veils.” Mehring and Louis were pursuing similar ideas, but Mehring’s picture looks darker and thicker — more allover — than Louis’s. If the show’s other allovers are vaguely floral, “Diagonal” is tectonic. Its translucent strata coalesce into something formidable.

Also at Connersmith is a geometric color-field canvas by another of Mehring’s D.C. contemporaries, Paul Reed, as well as provocative paintings, sculptures and conceptual pieces by such current artists as J.J. McCracken, Jessica Maria Hopkins and Wilmer Wilson IV. None of the latter works, which address gay, female and Black identity, is likely to end up on display at a federal agency.

Howard Mehring: Brilliance Through Nov. 30 at Connersmith, 1013 O St. NW. Open by appointment.

Pamela Keravuori

Like Howard Mehring before her, Pamela Keravuori makes nonrepresentational pictures that usually lack a central focus. But there’s a lot more variety, of both gesture and material, in her “Painting While Barefoot” at the Athenaeum. Charcoal, pencil and oil-pastel scribbles wheel across acrylic and spray paints in this show, the Virginia-based artist’s first solo exhibition since 1989.

Keravuori’s compositions appear improvisational, yet with repeated motifs. She contrasts areas of soft, smudgy color with sketchy gray lines and, occasionally, robust blacks. A few paintings include hints at narrative: Stenciled numbers punctuate “Traveling the Silk Road,” and irregular 3-D blocks at the bottom of “Following the Yellow Brick Road” loosely resemble cobblestones.

Keravuori has lived in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, so the references to road trips suggest autobiography. The gallery’s note calls her work “a delicate unhurried response to a memory, a place, an experience that has become abstract with time but still reveals a story.” Yet Keravuori is indebted to abstract expressionism, which extolled the spontaneous and the immediate. In her paintings, there’s as much now as then.

Pamela Keravuori: Painting While Barefoot Through Nov. 29 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.

MEG @ Mosaic

There’s a certain tension between the photographs in “MEG @ Mosaic” and the show’s location. An overview of work by 11 members of Alexandria’s Multiple Exposures Gallery, the exhibition includes more than a few views of battered structures and no-hope towns. Yet the pictures hang at Torpedo Factory Artists @ Mosaic, a satellite gallery in Fairfax County’s so fresh, so clean Mosaic District.

Not all of the entries focus on places that are weathered and seemingly forgotten. Soonin Ham offers overlapped contrapuntal images that conjure a fading past, while Alan Sislen and Van Pulley contemplate vast landscapes veiled by, respectively, mist or sunlight. Also, the architectural studies include both Fran Livaditis’s upbeat and akimbo close-ups of bright-hued building details and Fred Zafran’s “Small Town Empty” streetscapes, which inventory 19th-century edifices that are simultaneously modest and grand.

Empty small towns manifest much less dignity in Timothy Hyde’s photos, made in evocatively derelict Ohio locations. The centerpiece is just as dilapidated, but the landscape more sweeping, in Matt Leedham’s picture of a low-slung Irish ruin. Sandy LeBrun-Evans took her camera inside a tattered room for a double exposure that combines the ghostliness of Ham’s style with the poignancy of Hyde’s. Shoppers may prefer pristine surroundings, but cracked walls and broken windows tell more compelling stories.

MEG @ Mosaic Through Nov. 29 at Torpedo Factory Artists @ Mosaic, 2905 District Ave., Suite 105, Fairfax.

Julie Wolfe

Flora, fauna and rustic landscapes feature in the five handsome prints in Julie Wolfe’s “Wildfires and Dreamfields,” but the natural world is not the primary concern of the Hemphill Artworks show. While Wolfe is perhaps best known for turning polluted-water samples into a sort of rainbow in jars, lately the D.C. artist has probed the human psyche. The screen prints revisit images from a handmade book (also on exhibit) that juxtaposes clouds and eyes, a snake and a Rorschach-like blot. These found elements are overlapped to evoke dream states and the subconscious mind.

The book arrays random but potent images in a way that recalls surrealism, which was keen on dream logic, but also mid-20th-century pop culture. Flying saucers hover here and there, red spirals echo the poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo,” and the general trippiness is a flashback to acid-rock light shows. If such references suggest quaint nostalgia, that’s not all that flourishes in Wolfe’s dreamfields. These visual pileups also convey a sense of anxiety that’s altogether up to date.

Julie Wolfe: Wildfires and Dreamfields Through Nov. 29 at Hemphill Artworks, 434 K St. NW. Open by appointment.