Such aesthetic free-for-alls as Artomatic are always packed with nerd art: work inspired by comic books, animation and sword-and-sorcery illustrations. JD Deardourff’s “Splash!” is in this tradition, yet apart from it.As the title of the Hillyer Art Space show announces, Deardourff is inspired by the “splash page” that opens superhero comics. But his screenprints are all splash and no superhero. The action comes from color and composition.
Deardourff’s flamboyant style descends from that of Jack Kirby, the most influential Marvel artist during the decade that introduced Thor, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. Black lines, yellow bolts and red bursts conjure an explosive universe where big bangs are routine. If these unpeopled pictures were backdrops for a particular character, he might be named Volcano Man.
Ironically, the day-glo colors are much brighter than the ones allowed by the cheap printing and pulpy paper used in Kirby’s day. Yet the black outlines are crucial to the artist’s style, as Deardourff demonstrates by including one piece that forgoes them. It’s more My Little Pony than Silver Surfer.
“Splash!” isn’t all Marvel homage. The complex, playfully allusive titles refer to AC/DC, Bob Dylan and professional sports. Deardourff also shows an interest in architecture, even if most of his buildings are shown from the vantage point of someone swinging or swooping through the sky. Even without costumed battlers, these city- and space-scapes are epic.
Fawna Xiao’s “Half Wild,” also at Hillyer, uses many of the same elements as its predecessor, “Lost Land.” Both involve arraying jagged blocks of color to suggest boulders, icebergs and mountains. Most of these single-edition prints are simply in black and gray, like the black-and-white landscape photos that inspired them, while a few are in shades of blue.
The new addition to the D.C. artist’s style is the use of wood. Three of the minimalist compositions are printed on lengths of wood, the flat areas of pigment in contrast to the medium’s grain. Several small pieces are mounted in whitewashed wooden frames that are larger than the image they surround. Thus Xiao reintroduces natural texture into prints that reduce rocky forms to pure shape and color.
On view through Feb. 1 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Court NW; 202-338-0680; hillyerartspace.org
Flowers, vegetables and wasp’s nests are among the natural forms emulated in ceramicist David Hicks’s recent work, “Nucleus,” at Cross Mackenzie Gallery. The artist lives in California’s heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley, and its products inspire many of the objects he makes and then groups into intriguing compositions.
Yet Hicks doesn’t glaze or paint his creations in bright reds or greens so they more closely resemble blooms or leaves. He employs mineral-like tones and rough textures that suggest rocks, bones or branches. The pieces are coated in the crusty residue of improvised slips — Hicks says he doesn’t measure the ingredients or record what he puts in them — so they appear to have been bathed in lava, or excavated after centuries underground. However elegantly formed, his work doesn’t pretend to consist of anything other than clay and dirt.
The process seldom ends with the fabrication of an individual item. Most of “Nucleus” consists of assemblages, arranged together on armatures or — in one case — hung from the wall on wires of varying lengths. Some of the sets are limited to a narrow palette, most notably a cluster that’s all pink and gray, flowery and earthy at the same time. Others show a wider range of hues, but always with a weathered finish. Hicks’s mastery is reflected not only in the way he crafts these buds, pods and sticks, but also in how he puts them together.
On view through Feb. 28 at Cross Mackenzie Gallery, 2026 R St. NW; 202-333-7970; crossmackenzie.com
François Le Gall’s “Multiple States” includes a painting, selected by Alex Gallery for the postcard to publicize the show, that could be seen as the slats of a barn, decayed enough on one side to allow sunlight to shine through. It’s a connection the artist himself must have made, since the picture is subtitled “La Grange,” French for “barn.”
But the artist probably didn’t set out to conjure a real structure in that work, whose main title is “BW/V #3.” Le Gall is an abstractionist, and the elements of that painting recur in his pictures, many in a series titled “Verticales.” The D.C.-based French artist layers black acrylic pigment with bold strokes of a squeegee or palette knife, sometimes leaving hints of white canvas.
The show includes many variations on this format. Sometimes horizontal gestures are more prominent. The strokes and palettes of a few pieces are light rather than heavy. Gray can replace black, and blue or red appear occasionally, notably in the prints and works on paper downstairs in Gallery A. But the dominant mode is dark, strong and physical. Any glimmers of white that might remain are just a bonus.
On view through Jan. 31 at Alex Gallery, 2106 R St. NW; 202-667-2599; alexgalleries.com
“Cave,” Jessica Cebra’s installation at Transformer, has two agendas. The first is simply to make the already tiny space even more claustrophobic. The local artist has used cardboard, mostly painted gray, to construct a new ceiling, lower and irregular in height. Most adults will have to stoop to enter this temporary grotto, which guarantees a reaction. It’s impossible to ignore an artwork that requires viewers to contort themselves to enter, and to use flashlights — they’re provided — to explore its shadowy recesses.
Inside, the space is embellished with squares of shiny silver and gold paper, like reptilian scales, and a strand of diamond-shaped pink lights. Amid these elements are dozens of museum postcards, depicting fine- and decorative-art objects, that Cebra has collected over the years. A student of library science and historic preservation, the artist has created a sort of sham World Heritage site, a cross between a museum gift shop and the sort of cave that conceals Paleolithic paintings.
Intriguingly, Cebra’s interest in preserving and cataloguing is here combined with willful destruction. Those postcards won’t come off the wall intact, so this installation marks the end of that collection. “Cave” is a place for conserving, but also for letting go.
On view through Jan. 25 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW; 202-483-1102; email@example.com
Jenkins is a freelance writer.