In classical Christian paintings that center on the Madonna, the subject is usually serene, sometimes smiling and always, of course, immaculate. Dariana Arias updates the tradition with “Icons: Las Virgencitas,” and the results are not cheery. The Honfleur Gallery show portrays 12 modern Madonnas, victimized by the expectations of family, society and men.
The D.C. artist is originally from Venezuela, so the imagery of the Latin American Catholicism is surely an influence. Arias also draws from the icons of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, with their flattened figures and abundant gold, and perhaps the stiff vignettes of stained glass windows. In addition, the angular bodies and anguished poses suggest El Greco, although Arias’s acrylics lack the depth and richness of his work.
The texts that inspire Arias are considerably more contemporary. She includes quotations from existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and political philosopher Frantz Fanon, who analyzed poverty and racism, and ponders issues as current as yesterday’s newspaper and today’s blog post.
Fanon is known for his book “Black Skin, White Masks,” and masks of various kinds characterize the Virgencitas. “Beauty Is in the Double Eyelid of the Beholder” illustrates the vogue for plastic surgery to make East Asian women appear more Western. Other pictures detail, and deplore, the “exotification” of African, Asian and Native American women.
Some of Arias’s Madonnas, such as the teenage girl who broadcasts sexualized selfies via her “I-solation” phone, have internalized oppression. And then there’s “Anima” (from the Latin for “soul”), who has a bloody nose and lines of white powder on the table behind her. It’s the most potent of the paintings, yet is the one that seems to have the least to do with the series’ theme. Those who sell their soul for a mind-altering experience are less Madonna than Faust.
Icons: Las Virgencitas: Dariana Arias On view through Jan. 8 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. honfleurgallery.com.
In photographic tableaux she has exhibited previously, Carolina Mayorga posed as the Virgin, clad in robes worthy of a Renaissance canvas. Her current show, a few doors away from Honfleur at Vivid Solutions Gallery, tinkers with a different set of female (and male) archetypes.
“La Vie en Rose” combines the iconography of Marilyn Monroe, Edith Piaf and “The Wizard of Oz’s” Dorothy Gale, juxtaposed with war toys.
In videos projected on the space’s three solid walls, the Colombia-born D.C. artist sports a glitzy get-up and a conspicuously phony blond wig. She blows kisses and warbles about life in the pink, the song interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Pink also is the color of the running-soldier silhouettes seen in one video and of the toy tank and miniature GIs in the center of the room. They face a microphone that is attended only by a pair of ruby slippers.
The images pit innocence vs. experience, soft power vs. hard force. They’re evocative, but hardly unexpected. “La Vie en Rose” is the first part of a multimedia series titled “PINK: The Art of Infatuation and Embellishment.” Perhaps future installments will be more surprising.
La Vie en Rose: Carolina Mayorga On view through Jan. 8 at Vivid Solutions Gallery, 1231 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-580-5972. vividsolutionsgallery.com.
Dyed, crumpled tissue paper is the basis for the works in Maya Freelon Asante’s “Impermanence,” but that fundamental material takes many forms at the Morton Fine Art show. The Baltimore artist’s “Evidence/Nothing” series consists of twisted paper forms mounted on wood. Some of the other pieces are prints derived from wetly inked paper spun on a flat wheel. A few compositions incorporate old family photos, a celebration of personal heritage but also an expression of grief over the death of a child.
All of the works hang on the gallery’s walls, but some are partly sculptural. In addition to the ones made of tangled tissue, “Shattered/Whole” arrays seeds and shards of glass atop its pink-spattered paper. Yet Asante demonstrates that 3-D elements are not necessary to effect a sense of depth. The show’s standout is “Dark Matter,” a monoprint whose green and blue forms conjure motion, distance and gem-like facets. It appears both liquid and crystalline, impermanent and eternal.
Impermanence: Maya Freelon Asante On view through Jan. 5 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. mortonfineart.com.
Since Wolf Kahn is represented by multiple Washington galleries, his rustic reveries are familiar to regulars on the local art circuit.
“Wolf Kahn: America’s Printmaker” is in part an introduction for those just discovering the German-born Vermonter’s work via Gallery Neptune & Brown, the new 14th Street NW outlet for Georgetown-rooted dealers Christine Neptune and Robert Brown.
The selection dates from the 1980s to 2015, and includes a few line-oriented works along with monotypes finished with pastel and lithographs that seem to retain the softness of their pastel origins.
Kahn is known for color contrasts that are bold and unnatural, yet somehow look apt. In the otherwise verdant “Greens and Grays of Summer,” sky and water are startlingly gray notes. A rare departure from New England subjects, “In Yosemite” spotlights a single tree rather than Kahn’s usual thickets. The highlighted trunk is, of course, orange.
At Addison/Ripley, “Wolf Kahn” consists mostly of oils on canvas but also includes pastels on paper. Most are recent, but the earliest was made in 1967. The hues clash exuberantly, and there also are strong oppositions of light and dark. The striking “Three Trees Against Black” puts darkness at its center, an unusual strategy for Kahn. Just outside the blackness, though, green grass and pink sky offer a counterpoint that’s typically idiosyncratic.
Wolf Kahn: America’s Printmaker On view through Jan. 9 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. neptunefineart.com.
Wolf Kahn On view through Jan. 23 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-338-5180. addisonripleyfineart.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.