Bill Mould could be mistaken for Washington’s finest fabric artist. But in fact there are no textiles in his “About Face . . . et al.,” at Touchstone Gallery. The sculptor’s principal material is ceramic, which he uses to simulate the folds of cloth and paper with astonishing fluidity. Unusually thin and supple, his sheets of fired clay curl as if they just fell into place and could flutter in the slightest breeze.
Although this is a smaller show than the one Mould had at the same venue in 2012, it celebrates many of the same interests: myth, antiquity, venerable languages and the human face, both shrouded and revealed. There’s even a small abstract expressionist composition of fused clay pieces, featuring a yellow circle, a red wedge and a notched blue-black field.
With works named for Lazarus and Agamemnon, and text in the proto-Greek Linear B, “About Face” is a classicist’s playground. An assemblage of twigs accompanies a replica of a text fragment from Tel Gezer in Israel; Mould writes that it is probably the oldest surviving document in Hebrew. The semi-understood, like the physically hidden, compels the artist.
Two of the pieces include mirrors, an over-obvious way to draw the viewer into an artwork; their frames, which jumble different writing systems on scraps of paperlike ceramic, are the most interesting aspect of them. But most of the faces in Mould’s work are cloaked, their features outlined under soft-looking ceramic sheets. These visages arouse the viewer’s desire to know more about the hidden and forgotten of human history.
Bill Mould: About Face . . . et al. On view through Sept. 28 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW, 202-347-2787, www.touchstonegallery.com.
Although she doesn’t encourage viewers to unleash their inner Godzilla, Rachel Schmidt does suggest a sort of walk-through of the large model city at the center of “Apocaloptimist: A Future True Story.” One wall offers bovine, avian and canine masks and this invitation: “Please participate in this future true story by wearing a mask while viewing the cityscape.” To illustrate how to do this, the Hillyer Art Space show includes line drawings of masked women who tower over photo-collage cityscapes, brandishing little buildings at one another. At least they don’t breathe fire.
The artist defines an “apocaloptimist” as “someone who knows that things will go to s#!* but still believes it will work out for the best.” Actually, things don’t look all that bad in Schmidt’s miniature city, where boxy model buildings abut wooden boat hulls — a motif of her earlier work — and small video projections show men engaged in repetitive tasks. The recurring actions mirror the rigid geometries of the International Style facades of the model buildings. In Schmidt’s “imaginary dystopian future,” the major downside seems to be regimentation.
The title of Michele Montalbano’s Hillyer show, “Babel,” could refer to a city. But the artist is more interested in the linguistic aspect of the biblical tale of Babel (a.k.a. Babylon): Her collages feature abundant text, rendered in calligraphy, cuneiform, letterpress printing and illuminated manuscripts, enlisted for their beauty rather than any message. Montalbano also includes nature images and references to other forms of art and discourse. In the biggest piece — a scroll that rolls across the ceiling, down the wall and onto the floor — a bird chirps, “tweet,” a rare acknowledgment of computer-age parlance. Another collage is titled “Kintsukuroi,” after the traditional Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery with gold, making it more valuable in the process. That’s akin to what Montalbano does when she jumbles images and words.
Some text is also used in the space’s third current show, “Hillyer Contemporaries,” which offers one piece each by seven members of the gallery’s artist advisory committee. John Paradiso frames tightly cropped photos of men’s faces with flowers and snippets from gay pornography; tendrils seem to grow from the words at the bottom of Pat Goslee’s painting, an abstraction with multiple hints of representation. Other highlights include Renee Stout’s large assemblage, which combines a rattan fish trap, metal parts and other found objects into a mysterious totem; and Pattie Porter Firestone’s wall sculpture of aluminum strips, which curve in approximate tandem. Like a lot of these works, it’s graceful yet a bit damaged.
Rachel Schmidt: Apocaloptimist: A Future True Story; Michele Montalbano: Babel; Hillyer Contemporaries On view through Sept. 27 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW; 202-338-0680; www.hillyerartspace.org.
A knotted section of tree trunk is Rosabel Goodman-Everard’s equivalent of Andy Warhol’s soup can. She paints it over and over, and groups the variations together tightly in “Elementrees,” at Studio Gallery. But where Warhol kept permutations to a minimum, Goodman-Everard is more expansive. She works in different colors, styles and media, and adds other pictorial elements; she allows birds to perch on the trunk or links its vertical form to the human torso, limbs and extremities. (The latter idea becomes, well, explicit in erotic drawings of Little Red Riding Hood, a wolf and a tree.)
Elsewhere, the local artist places treelike shapes in a lighted box or carves ink drawings of trees on wooden planks — Ikea shelves, in fact — or attaches twigs that transform into painted mini-furniture. She even provides a few more realistic renderings, including of a tree in nearby Dupont Circle. Most of these plantings, though, are less rooted in the real world.
Although it’s titled “The Bellini Project,” after the 15th-century Italian painter, Laura Litten’s Studio Gallery show includes much nature imagery. All the pictures are landscapes in an extreme horizontal format, and all but one (an oil painting) meld watercolor, gouache, ink and pencil. The Chicago-forged D.C. artist uses clean colors and delicate lines to depict a whale, a pelican, a snail and some rabbits, which enter the scenes in a gently uncanny manner. Whether placed in a center panel or around the edges, the creatures are as incongruous as the inorganic objects Litten also inserts: telephones, a piano, an airplane and metal pipes and bolts. The artist writes that these juxtapositions were inspired by the strangeness of Bellini’s “Madonna and Child,” but others may think of surrealism.
Rosabel Goodman-Everard: Elementrees; Laura Litten: The Bellini Project On view through Sept. 27 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW; 202-232-8734; www.studiogallerydc.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.