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Galleries: From edgy at ‘Untitled No. 1’ to historic at ‘Watergate’

William Willis. ‘Mountains and Rivers,’ 2011-12. Oil on canvas. (Courtesy William Willis/Hemphill Fine Arts)

In 2009, Randall Scott moved his gallery from Logan Circle to Brooklyn. Now he’s back in town, without a permanent location but with an interesting selection of artists. Scott’s current group show, “Untitled No. 1,” is on display in a warehouse near the 9:30 Club. The building is un-air-conditioned and marked for demolition, but it’s a good fit for this exhibition of often brash work by seven New York and Los Angeles artists.

While the show includes art that’s exquisitely detailed or gently serene, most of it is edgy and contemporary — or at least as contemporary as the ’80s punk rock evoked by Chris Bors and Michael Bevilacqua. Pop-culture references abound, although Tokyo-born Tomokazu Matsuyama uses centuries-old Japanese motifs for his large canvases, which subject samurai to the indignities of pop art and color-field painting.

Paul Brainard’s dense drawings, mostly in pencil, contrast everyday people and places with movie- and comics-derived images of monsters and pin-up girls. Joe Biel paints monkeys, every hair seemingly in place, with watercolor and latex; the simians sit or stand on empty backdrops, holding or pondering such incongruous props as a radio, a shofar or a tuning fork.

Bevilacqua’s smeary silver and black paintings repeat the words “dis” and “order”; one has the phrase “unknown pleasure” etched into the paint, suggesting a Joy Division album whose first song is “Disorder.” Bors evokes more than one band: His paintings, which simulate spilled watercolors running down the pages of children’s coloring books, are named for the groups whose logos they incorporate, including Agnostic Front and Reagan Youth.

The show’s two abstractionists are Mason Salterrelli and Robert Kingston. The former uses oils and sprayed acrylics to create hazy, gray- and tan-heavy images that suggest natural forms. The latter allows bright colors in the small canvases of his “Montauk Series,” but his larger pictures are predominantly sandy. Kingston, who’s based on the desert side of L.A. County, paints vast almost-landscapes that are all the more powerful for their near emptiness.

Chris Bors, ‘Agnostic Front,’ 2011, acrylic on canvas. (Courtesy Chris Bors/Randall Scott Projects)
William Willis, Steven Cushner

Two years ago, Hemphill Fine Arts presented a show of paintings by Steven Cushner and works on paper by William Willis. Now the two artists are again cohabiting the gallery, each showing the sort of work the other did the last time. Either way, the two men’s art is quite compatible. Both employ muted yet complex palettes and simple, even primal, forms.

The paintings in Willis’s “Keeping It Alive,” executed in oil on canvas or occasionally wood, have a folkloric quality that seems utterly American. Yet his models include those 20th-century European painters and sculptors who streamlined and abstracted what they saw. One picture, which features jagged black and white shapes, is titled “Tree for Brancusi.” The most directly representational of these 12 works is a tabletop scene; it’s called simply “Still Life With Gray,” but a title that invoked Picasso or Braque would be apt. Such pieces as “Mountains and Rivers,” which turns the painter’s trademark zigzag sideways, have more of the great outdoors in them than is typical of his Parisian precursors. But in his quest for images that are both specific and universal, Willis follows the modernists’ path.

Cushner’s “Works on Paper” consists of nine untitled mixed-media paintings that are brighter and rounder than Willis’s work. Instead of angular shapes, Cushner employs ovals and spirals, suggesting shells, microorganisms and labyrinths. The watery colors have a childlike feel, although the compositions show adult powers of concentration. This combination, too, recalls the Europeans who transformed the visual arts at the start of the last century.

‘Call and Response’

The members of the Abstract Collective, showing together in “Call and Response” at the Foundry Gallery, have all been influenced by abstract expressionism. These 12 women use vivid colors and bold gestures to give their art the animation and spontaneity that were so startling in Pollock and his peers six decades ago. But they’re not all pure abstractionists. Octavia Frazier incorporates fish and flower shapes into her patterned canvases, horses are a motif in Meg MacKenzie’s mixed-media pieces and M. Jane Johnson’s canvases includes vinelike motifs that suggest fabric design.

Among the strongest of these pictures are two by Ana Elisa Benavent, who arrays and layers rich colors. One of the canvases is hot, dominated by a field of red; the other is cooler, with a large area in which blue bleeds into a complementary shade of green. These aren’t the sort of wall-filling paintings the ab-ex guys used to make; a 12-artist show in one of Foundry’s two modest rooms couldn’t accommodate such scale. But Benavent’s work is large in both ambition and spirit.


The commemoration of the Watergate burglary’s 40th anniversary is winding down, but follow-the-money buffs have another week to view the 79 portraits in “Watergate” at — where else? — the Watergate Gallery. Working from vintage photographs, Anita Munn has painted loose but accurate likenesses of the Plumbers and their superiors; various judges, lawyers and lawmakers; and a few people who work at (or used to work for) this newspaper. Not all are depicted as might be expected. Richard Nixon, for example, is shown in mid-guffaw.

Although Watergate security guard Frank Wills gets a panel to himself, most of the pictures are grouped by affiliation or affinity: Nixon loyalists here and enemies’ list members — including Jane Fonda, one of only eight women — over there. There are names and faces that have largely been forgotten (Robert Vesco, Charles Rebozo) and ones that are nearly current (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld). The faces combine to tell a single story, Munn insists, by offering the portraits for sale only as a set of all 79. For Watergate fans who don’t have a bagman to fund such a large purchase, two posters are available. One shows the series; the other has the only American president ever to resign the office.

Michael Bevilacqua. ‘DISintigrate/Annihilate,’ 2012 acrylic, spray paint on canvas. (Courtesy Michael Bevilacqua /Randall Scott Projects)

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

Untitled No. 1

on view through July 21 at Randall Scott Projects, 2030 Eighth St. NW; 202-262-5468;

William Willis: Keeping It Alive; Steven Cushner: Works on Paper
on view through July 28 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-234-5601,

Call and Response
on view through July 29 at Foundry Gallery, 1314 18th St. NW; 202-463-0203;

on view through July 21 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW; 202-338-4488;



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