T he last years of the 1960s were pretty eventful for Willem de Looper, to judge from “Stained Paintings, 1964-1970.” The Hemphill Fine Arts show starts with two tentative works from 1964: The Dutch-bred D.C. painter (and onetime Phillips Collection curator) sketched acrylic pigment on the raw canvas for which Washington Color School innovators Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland were known. By 1967, de Looper was filling the frame, at least in the works on paper included here. But he did so with discrete forms whose arrangements didn’t quite harmonize.
It’s only in the last three years of the period that de Looper’s work began to flow, whether in the deep wine colors of 1968’s “Untitled I” or the oceanic blues and greens of 1969’s “Oxford.” Open space vanished, and the canvas was washed with soft, immersive color. Instead of employing the distinct stripes, chevrons or rivulets of his predecessors, the painter blended hues like an old master.
The gallery’s notes on the show stress that de Looper — unlike Louis and, later, Sam Gilliam — did not paint on unstretched canvas. That may explain why de Looper’s style appears more illusionistic, with a sense of depth and colors that seem to billow. Another distinction is a subtler, perhaps playful touch: On such pictures as “Sam” and “Ten Years,” the artist spattered droplets of contrasting hues. While the dribs are barely visible, they defy the era’s briefly influential gospel of flatness. De Looper was to take other paths before his death in 2009, but he came into his own in the years covered by this show, somewhere between those unsure 1964 works and 1970’s rich, aptly titled “Intense Green.”
Willem de Looper: Stained Paintings, 1964-1970 On view through March 28 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. www.hemphillfinearts.com.
“Locally Sourced” is a big show, albeit of small artworks, and it asks a big question. Not “Do you know where your art comes from?,” the rubric for the four-part American University Museum series that begins with this exhibition. But rather, “Is there a place for inexpensive, modestly scaled art in an age of blockbuster shows and international gallery stars whose exorbitant prices are part of the concept?”
This selection of more than 200 works was organized by Tim Doud, an AU professor, and Victoria Reis, executive director of Transformer. That community-supported art organization is one of seven represented, along with groups from Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans and Chicago. Some of the pieces are childlike, or pretty and polite enough for commercial art. But many share a thrift-shop aesthetic: found objects, garish colors, intentionally awkward juxtapositions. Beatriz Monteavaro’s “Green Cat,” for example, is a collage-painting that combines an op-art spiral with two skulls and a cat mask.
Affordability is key, so most of the pieces are prints, photographs or drawings. But there’s also sculpture, video and items inspired by the current vogue for vinyl records and their sleeves. “Ten x Ten,” for example, is a series of screenprints made by collaborative pairs of artists and keyed to an album of modernist instrumental music — cool on Side A, warm on the flip. Such projects may offer an alternative to blockbuster art, but they seem more an expression of longing for the days when nifty, mass-produced cultural artifacts were available at any neighborhood book or record store.
Locally Sourced On view through March 15 at the American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-1300. www.american.edu/museum. On March 3 at 6 p.m., the museum will host a panel discussion with the directors of five of the programs represented in this show.
The title of Carl Bretzke’s show at Susan Calloway Fine Arts is curious: “Anytime/Anywhere: A Modern Landscape.” The Minnesota painter doesn’t depict recognizable landmarks — quite the opposite — but his work is specific in both time and place. Most of these oils detail the Twin Cities in snowy wintertime. And although Bretzke’s vignettes may be contemporary, they’re not notably modern. The artist’s unadorned style recalls Edward Hopper and the Ashcan school, and the places and things he portrays have been around for a while. The cars in these mostly unpopulated pictures seem to date from the 1970s or earlier.
The selection includes a few views of sunnier climes, including Italy and California. But wherever he goes, Bretzke focuses on the humble and everyday. When he depicts larger buildings, they’re in the distance — visible beyond the old brick structures, yet out of reach. In the icy-blue “Black Dog,” the canine is walking away from a downtown that might as well be in another dimension. Such deep-shadowed nocturnes as the green-tinted “December Alley” aren’t threatening, but they are a little lonely. That’s the intriguing mystery of Bretzke’s art. It’s simultaneously intimate and detached.
Carl Bretzke: Anytime/Anywhere: A Modern Landscape On view through March 7 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. www.callowayart.com.
Dadaists pulled words arbitrarily from a hat and read them as poems; John Cage used the I Ching to compose music by chance. These days, as Richard Dana demonstrates, computers expand the range of randomness. The inkjet prints in the Bethesda artist’s “Reverberations,” at Heurich Gallery, begin as black-and-white drawings or collages. After computer manipulation, they become shimmeringly colorful and utterly unrecognizable. The results recall Colby Caldwell’s series of digital abstractions based on a corrupted computer file, but in Dana’s work the corruption is intentional.
Like all artists who use chance, Dana relinquishes some, but not all, control. He decides when the images are ready to be printed, and his titles acknowledge what their forms suggest. “Phantom Current” and “Wave Aura” could be extreme close-ups of rippling water, while the sci-fi tattersall of “Crosstown Traffic” resembles a street grid (and without any confusing diagonals or circles). Whether the pictures feature tight patterns or looser ones that might be called gestures, they all appear artfully designed. But that’s just the last random element. What these abstractions represent is determined by the eye of the individual viewer, not the supposed brain of the devices that fashioned them.
Richard Dana: Reverberation On view through March 23 at Heurich Gallery, 505 Ninth St. NW. 202-223-1626. www.downtowndc.org/go/heurich-gallery.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.