Most of the time, Ron Meick can contain an idea to a single piece of paper. But the Delaware artist scatters forms across that sheet, because he sees the world in fragments — whether bones, cracked bedrock or the individual strokes of a Chinese character. These are just some of the inspirations for “Extraktions,” Meick’s show at Washington Printmakers Gallery. It explores various ways to split an image, and myriad reasons to do so.
The array includes a few sculptural pieces, often made from wood and brass and emulating weather vanes. But most of the works are monotypes (single-copy prints), often with bright watercolor hues added after the basic black image is transferred to the white paper. The result is not necessarily pristine. Meick uses high-quality, acid-free stock, but he roughs it up. He creases or crumples his prints, sometimes stuffing them into Plexiglas boxes. Another technique is to run wet paper through the press, leaving permanent folds in the sheet, and splintering the inked areas.
Clearly, Meick has a restless imagination, which leads him to seek new ways to use the print medium. But his cracked, folded and dissected pictures are not simply formal exercises; they are often political. A series of lithographs and monotypes dismembers the ideograms for Tibet, in protest of what the artists calls China’s attempt to dismantle Tibetan culture and language. Another group of prints protests fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals into underground faults to release oil or gas for harvesting.
Some of Meick’s inspirations are less controversial. He makes prints based on scattered dog bones to pay tribute to those loyal beasts, and he bases designs on the daily up-and-down of stock and commodity price charts. In another ode to change, he incises faces on pebbles, deriving the countenances of the briefly noted from a single edition of the Wall Street Journal. Flux and permanence continually parry in the artist’s work.
If Meick’s illustrations of his concerns can occasionally seem too literal, the skill with which he executes his prints is extraordinary. The universe he perceives may be coming apart, but “Extraktions’ ” bold gestures, vivid colors and mangled shapes hold together beautifully.
On view through June 30 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, second floor, 8230 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-273-3660; washingtonprintmakers.com.
You don’t have to be a Bethesdan to enter the annual Bethesda Painting Awards; it’s open to artists from throughout Maryland, plus Virginia and D.C. But seven of this year’s eight finalists (chosen from nearly 300 entrants) are from Maryland, and the top prize went to Baltimore County’s Barry Nemett. Several examples of his work, as well as pictures by the other finalists, are on display at Gallery B.
Some of the artists, including Hedieh Ilchi and Joan Belmar, had recent shows in D.C. galleries. Most balance abstraction and representation, whether by incorporating both modes or by engaging in one while hinting at the other. Nemett, for example, paints landscapes but in a misty style that sometimes dissolves into pure color and texture. Iran-born Rockville resident Ilchi, who took third place, paints colorful clouds and tendrils that sometimes become three-dimensional but also inserts intricate gilded illustrations in the manner of classical Persian books. Cara Ober and Bill Schmidt, both of Baltimore, mix drawing and painting in intricate compositions that suggest the tradition of illuminated manuscripts.
Among the boldest pictures are those of Belmar, a Chile-bred Takoma Park inhabitant, and Lutherville’s Dennis Farber. Belmar contrasts hard-edged black shapes with loosely painted, earth-toned areas, while Farber paints so thickly that his free-hanging, vividly hued canvases become almost sculptural. All eight painters show great finesse, but Belmar and Farber match that quality to crackling energy.
On view through June 29 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-215-7990; www.bethesda.org.
The sensation may not be profound or exalted, but sheer velocity does have an adrenaline-stoking appeal. Yet capturing “the need for speed” might be better left to “Fast & Furious 6” than to a gallery show, which by definition is fairly static. Marley Dawson acknowledges as much with the titles of his Hillyer Art Space exhibition and its principal piece: “Big Feelings (going nowhere)” and “Slow Burn.”
An Australian artist currently doing “studio-based research” in D.C., Dawson has mounted a slo-mo tribute to the open road. The centerpiece is a 1979 Motobecane moped, which clicks in leisurely rotation atop a pedestal, leaving two light skid marks as it circles. Nearby is a tumbleweed on a stick, turning a little more quickly. Both are reflected in a half-dozen decommissioned aluminum road signs, scrubbed free of paint and highly polished. They’re as shiny as mirrors, although battered and pockmarked, apparently from stray small-arms fire.
According to the gallery’s notes, Dawson’s piece expresses “the contradictory yet aspirational nature of contemporary America.” The installation doesn’t seem all that American, however. The road signs are from Australia, and the bike is a French brand that’s not well known in the United States. (Neither, for that matter, are mopeds in general.) “Big Feelings (going nowhere)” is an entertaining trip, but it’s more exotic than familiar.
On view through June 28 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW; 202-338-0680; www.artsandartrists.org/hillyer.html.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.