Twenty-five years ago, Judy Greenberg and Jack Rasmussen founded Rockville Arts Space. That undertaking evolved into VisArts at Rockville, which is celebrating the anniversary with “Review Renew,” curated by Greenberg and Rasmussen. The show contains two pieces, one recent and one less so, by six local artists, as well as then-and-now portraits of them, mostly by photographer Paul Feinberg. The exhibition, in the center’s Kaplan Gallery, is supplemented by a selection of work by four glass and ceramic artists, down the hall at the Common Ground Gallery.
Of the six artists, four are still active. Manon Cleary, known for hyper-realist paintings that often featured pet white rats, died in 2011; Tom Green, who created his own vocabulary of glyphlike forms, died this year. Their presence in the show gives it an elegiac quality, but the work of the other four artists (the youngest of whom was born in 1947) is wholly vital. Without some guidance, for example, it would be hard to tell which of the Sam Gilliam pieces is from 1980 and which from 2009.
Often associated with the Washington Color School, Gilliam has expanded on that movement’s innovations, in part by shaping or draping his canvases. His “Architectural Notions for a New Nursery,” the 1980 painting, has a patchwork look yet epic sweep. Green’s 1968 “Sultana” is more muted but also defies the canvas’s customary shape, leaving a void at the center.
The other three artists paint figuratively, if not always realistically. Joe Shannon’s 2012 “Dianna and Actaeon” exuberantly illustrates the tale of the goddess who turns a man into a stag after she catches him watching her bathe. The theme of transformation is underscored by the near-abstract ground behind them. Similarly mythological are Lisa Montag Brotman’s 1980 “The Rituals of Invitation,” with two figures atop a field of red blooms or tendrils, and Margarida Kendall Hull’s “The Survivors II,” depicting a mismatched trio (including one with a ram’s head) posed before a war scene.
The vibe is a little gentler at Common Ground. But Robert Devers’s tile painting, “Spirit of Place,” shows an erupting volcano, and Margaret Boozer’s “Black Landscape” is a dark, seemingly dry wasteland of stoneware and wood. Mindy Weisel’s 12-panel “Parallel Tracks,” made of kiln-formed glass, throws colorful patterns on the wall, while Tim Tate’s “Lexicon Primer,” a set of 30 glass hands, also creates an abundance of shadows. In their own way, these four artists share Gilliam’s quest for new forms and surprising depths.
Although his style has changed over the years, Chuck Close’s focus has not. He came to prominence as a portraitist and remains one, an ironic reflection of his limited ability to remember faces. Originally a photorealist, the New York artist has long experimented with other techniques, designed to simultaneously fracture and preserve the image. “Chuck Close: New Work,” at Adamson Gallery, showcases two recent strategies.
The Watercolor Prints are digitally scanned from Close originals, then printed in watercolor. The six examples in this show are overwhelmingly large — heads and shoulders more than six feet high — yet delicately hued. Each contains about 15,000 marks, with multiple colors underlying each other. Yet the dots cohere into recognizable likenesses, including a self-portrait and images of such fellow artists as Kara Walker and Cindy Sherman.
The other seven portraits, known as Felt Hand Stamps, also divide visages into an array of what might be called pixels. These smaller works are built with single-color daubs of oil paint, applied in three layers with stamps. As in all of Close’s portraits, there’s an element of the mechanical, which began with the artist’s use of photography. Yet Close’s essential subject, as well as the intricate blending of colors, makes each piece as distinctive and complex as a human face.
Photographs used to be exclusively black and white; drawings rendered with charcoal, graphite or India and sumi ink still are. Those media are well represented in “Grayscale,” a group exhibition of 14 artists’s work at the Mansion at Strathmore. But there are also prints, acrylic paintings, fabric works and sculpture in gray and white polymer clay. The lack of color proves to be a limit, not a limitation.
Working without color, many of the artists emphasize detail. Timur Azaev’s pencil drawings boast near-photographic precision; Carl E. Kurtz’s intricate drawings suggest Islamic calligraphy and European illuminated manuscripts; and Palma Brozzetti’s photo of a Wyoming sky seems to capture every tuft of cloud. Yet some pieces draw power from mystery. Michael Nichols’s silverpoints of faces have a ghostly faintness, and mist obliterates the distinction between water and sky in Timothy Lynch’s photo of Canada geese landing. Most ethereal of all are two pieces in Margot Neuhaus’s “Black Line” series, which begin with a vertical stroke of black ink on a large sheet of paper. Then the artist tears the paper and overlaps the two pieces, leaving just a hint of the black. The work could hardly be simpler, or the result more intriguing.
Sometimes, it’s hard to discern how a piece of art was made. For example, the abstract circular drawings in “Current Recorder,” Billy Friebele’s show at Hamiltonian Gallery. Why are their spindly lines punctuated by round blotches of color?
The answer is close at hand: The device that created the drawings sits in the center of the gallery. Constructed from found objects, which include the shopping cart that supports it, the recorder is a wind- or fan-powered automatic art-making machine. Multi-colored Sharpie pens dangle from the rotating device, sketching circles on paper when they’re in motion and allowing ink to seep into the paper when they’re not. Friebele writes that the work “gives visibility to flux and ephemerality,” invoking a very loose translation of a line from Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher. But the drawings are also lovely on their own terms, and the recorder is a nifty repurposing of urban detritus. Where Heraclitus extolled the universe’s randomness, “Current Recorder” makes the case for a little human intervention.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
On view through Dec. 29 at Kaplan and Common Ground galleries, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-315-8200, visartscenter.org.
On view through Dec. 29 at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-232-0707; adamsongallery.jimdo.com.
On view through Dec. 29 at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, 301-581-5109, strathmore.org/fineartexhibitions/
On view through Dec. 29 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101; 202-332-1116; hamiltoniangallery.com.