Separating the large and small galleries at Hemphill Fine Arts is a room so tiny that it might be better called a niche. Sometimes it’s empty, but at the moment it holds a small 1999 print titled “How to Survive Your Own Death (Whole).” Colby Caldwell made this array of random pixels, but not on purpose. It was an accident — one he has been exploiting for almost two decades.
The show’s title, which Caldwell has used for years, also is “How to Survive Your Own Death.” The phrase is from a Bernard Welt poem that ponders why “people so little resemble their pictures.” It refers as well to the way an error in translating analog film footage into a digital format yielded new life — the pattern of brightly hued pixels from which the artist has derived hundreds of large-format, numbered abstract prints. (This selection tops off at No. 322.)
In these pictures, small blocks of color are enlarged until they become blurred lozenges, and the computer-generated forms begin to appear gestural. They’re paired with crisp, detailed photos of birds, moths and nests, posed on intense, single-color backdrops. The nature studies are magnified as grandly as the pixels, but not so that their images break down. The animals are dead, yet intact — memento mori that will live forever, or at least as long as Caldwell’s wax-covered archival prints survive.
All paintings and photographs are frozen, of course, even the ones that capture or simulate motion. Caldwell’s work insists on this. There is no sense that the bird might rouse itself and fly away, or that the pixels might heal themselves and reassemble into the image they were before their corruption. One photo, “Shadow Shadowed,” ponders the marred, perhaps wooden exterior of — what exactly? It doesn’t matter. In Caldwell’s pictures of moribund animals and defiled data, there is no life beneath the immaculate surface.
Colby Caldwell: How to Survive Your Own Death On view through March 5 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com.
The title of “Voltage,” Trevor Young’s show at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, may refer to paintings such as “Two Currents,” in which the sun rises over a generating station. Yet the local artist also depicts jetliners on tarmac, buildings aglow at night and the gridded illumination of a city that must be Los Angeles. Young’s fundamental interest is not electricity, but light in darkness.
Because of his soft-edged realism and attraction to generic locations, Young is sometimes compared to such bards of the everyday as Edward Hopper. But painters pursued the drama of chiaroscuro centuries before Hopper, and Young’s ability to find mystery in commonplace Americana also evokes such filmmakers as David Lynch.
In one of the most striking pictures, “While in Progress,” a building under construction is lit from within as if it were a lantern. It parallels a painting on a different scale, “Orange Swaying,” which portrays a luminous aquarium in an otherwise dark room. The canvas is in a small office that has been turned into a black-box gallery for this show and contains six medium-size oils of an aquarium and its contents. These don’t have the sweep of the airport or industrial scenes, yet they are just as vivid and uncanny. On any scale, Young can find the power of light.
Trevor Young: Voltage On view through March 5 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-338-5180. addisonripleyfineart.com.
“Quartet Nouveau,” Foundry Gallery’s current show, introduces the cooperative’s four newest members. The artists may be little known, but their work has familiar elements. Each participant’s style is rooted in those of a particular late-19th- or 20th-century painter or school.
Patrick Murphy, for example, is heavily indebted to Jackson Pollock, although he has found his own approach to the drip-master’s technique. While similarly vigorous and intricate, Murphy’s pictures are less improvisational and more regular. The balance between black squiggle and blue field in “Blue Lightning” is tidier than is typical of Pollock. Ann Pickett also is an abstractionist, but her vibrant acrylic-on-paper paintings have an almost-representational quality that suggests Richard Diebenkorn. These pictures hint at landscape, but also at intimate interior vignettes.
Charlene Neild and Becky S. Kim are both showing mostly paintings of women, although Kim’s work includes two landscapes whose spindly trees recall Modigliani. So do many of Kim’s portraits, while Neild’s evoke such Viennese proto-modernists as Klimt and Schiele. Stylized and flattened, her women are often framed by geometric patterns or — as in “Lizzy and Jupiter” — accompanied by a dog that appears more Euclidian than organic. Naturalism and near-abstraction dovetail in Neild’s pictures as tightly as chaos and order do in Murphy’s.
Quartet Nouveau On view through Feb. 28 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW. 202-232-0203. foundrygallery.org.
Nearly three dozen artists contributed to the current show at Watergate Gallery, and they offer almost that many interpretations of its theme, “The Magic Within.” Some pieces are mystical, but most simply reflect the participant’s usual artistic media and concerns. These range from eerie blue light (neon artist Craig Kraft) to ornately patterned oculi that represent both physical and psychological apertures (printmaker Susan Goldman).
Nature’s alchemy inspired much of the work. Photographer Jose Varela’s ethereal male bodies, overlapped in a crosslike arrangement, appear to be turning into figures of light. Painter Heidi Rastin depicts four roses in Warholian closeups, their green stems as prominent as their tomato-red blossoms. The irregular black circles in Doug Dupin’s picture are actually patterns made by mushroom spores on lustrous green fabric; the composition is outlined by an elaborate frame that presses pieces of a wasp’s nest between two layers of wood.
Imagination can lend magic to ordinary things, such as the white house Kevin Adams painted at an angle to give it an odd outlook. It’s “a house I never entered,” Adams writes, and that unseen interior becomes a metaphor for everything the viewer will never know for sure.
The Magic Within On view through March 5 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-4488. watergategalleryframedesign.com.