Drawings, photos, maquettes and small sculptures are just part of “Studio View,” a tribute at 39th Street Gallery to monument-maker Joanna Campbell Blake, who used to work nearby. There also are the sculptor’s art-book library and a chair draped with the same jacket she wears in a video interview playing nearby. The coat suggests that Blake will be back in a sec, but she won’t. She was killed in a motorcycle accident May 22, 2016, her 39th birthday.
Anyone who wants to see some of Blake’s major accomplishments needn’t visit this show. Her realistic renderings in bronze, steel and other materials can be seen at prominent locations such as Mount Vernon and the National World War II Memorial. But “Studio View” offers an understanding that’s both wider and more personal. It showcases, for example, a whimsy that would be out of place in her grander sculpture: a wooden “mini soapbox racer” carved with the forms of Aesop’s tortoise and hare.
Blake was an Alabama native, but she spent about half her life in Maryland. Many of her sculptures commemorate events, such as the battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812, that occurred in her adopted county or nearby. Shown here are two relief sculptures about the history of African American slaves and freedmen in Alexandria. Her D.C. monuments include an equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt and renderings of Ella Fitzgerald and Carter G. Woodson. Although Blake excelled at figures in a neoclassical style, she also celebrated nature. A ceiling of clouds for Busboys & Poets and a flock of great blue herons (not yet installed) are or will be farther up the street in, respectively, Hyattsville and Riverdale.
In the video interview, Blake talks about sculptural technique and fealty to historical accuracy. She doesn’t stress innovation and self-expression. Actually making the work, she says at one point, was the easy part. The sculptor clearly enjoyed producing art that was larger, in scale and theme, than any one person. Yet this show reveals much of the individual who shaped the collective vision.
Joanna Campbell Blake: Studio View On view through June 17 at 39th Street Gallery, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Second Floor, Brentwood. 202-487-8458. 39thstreetgallery.org. On June 17 at 2 p.m. at the gallery, architect Davis Buckley will talk about his experiences working with Blake.
Often translucent and frequently sporting vivid orange appendages, the creatures of “Spineless” look as though they’ve been computer-generated. That’s partly because Susan Middleton’s photography is so crisp, and the backdrops are immaculate black or white. But it’s mostly because the subjects of this National Academy of Sciences exhibition are so fantastical.
They’re marine invertebrates, which constitute more than 98 percent of known oceanic species. “Known” here means catalogued by scientists, not necessarily recognizable by laymen. Even those familiar with the nudibranch, stubby squid and pink brittle star are likely to be impressed by the variety and strangeness of these gelatinous, often plantlike animals.
Originally made for Middleton’s 2014 book of the same name, the images in “Spineless” have a scientific purpose and are presented with plenty of zoological information. They can, however, be savored just as inadvertent art objects. The photos are color studies, experiments in form and depth and mini sci-fi movies all in one.
Susan Middleton: Spineless On view through June 23 at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW. 202-334-2415. cpnas.org/exhibitions.
Surveying the exuberant paintings in Mike McConnell’s show at BlackRock Center for the Arts, viewers might take its title literally. “Elsewhere” seems to refer to places — Tuscany, Mendocino, unidentified wildernesses — far from the artist’s Baltimore studio. But, McConnell writes, to him the word evokes an escape from the planned, the verbatim and the everyday.
The artist works on handmade wooden panels with acrylic pigment he manipulates with razor blades. That’s why his pictures, which are fancifully representational, appear collaged as much as painted. The visual elements are discrete, like the cutouts employed by Matisse, one of the two artists McConnell mentions by name in a title. The other is David Hockney, also known for depicting dry, sunny climes. Such places are where McConnell lives — artistically, at least — although he sometimes suggests cooler, wetter locales. One of the most striking pictures here, “Heron,” downplays hot colors in favor of a rainy, blue-green palette punctuated by black fish.
To highlight the sculptural aspect of his painting, the artist has outfitted the gallery with several 3-D pieces. Forms blossom like abstracted bouquets from decorated tubes at each corner of the room. It’s a different way of working, but these pieces also demonstrate McConnell’s flair for color, shape and pattern.
A few miles south of “Elsewhere,” at VisArts, Amanda Burnham’s “Civic Body” is as bright and busy as most of McConnell’s work. A crucial difference is that Burnham’s wall-filling collage-painting simulates an urban experience, albeit one in which streets, buildings and consumer products are jumbled with human legs and arms. The Baltimore artist portrays the overwhelming nature of city life with color and composition, but also by propelling the image off the wall, across the floor and onto an adjacent divider. To take it all in, you have to look over your shoulder — just as you might do on a bustling street.
Mike McConnell: Elsewhere On view through June 10 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown. 301-528-2260. blackrockcenter.org/gallery.
Amanda Burnham: Civic Body On view through June 4 at Gibbs St. Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
Even at their most geometric, the paintings in “Jacob Kainen” have a beguiling softness. The nine pictures in the Hemphill Fine Arts show, made by the longtime Washington artist between 1980 and 1987, range from the hard-edged to the seemingly offhand. According to a gallery note, these works were inspired by religious icons that Kainen (1909-2001) saw in Russia.
The colors are mostly pastels, and all but one canvas feature a bar, box or smudge of rosy pink. This hue may abut black, float over white or — in the extraordinary “Bright Stamboul XI” — shimmer like a jewel in a sea of gray. Stamboul is an alternative name for Istanbul, once the center of Orthodox icon-making, so perhaps Kainen was thinking of that tradition when he made the painting. Whatever the inspiration, these pictures are striking and self-contained.
Jacob Kainen On view through June 10 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com.