In his formal portrait of venerable D.C. milliner Vanilla Powell Beane, Benjamin Ferry depicts her surrounded by hats and standing in front of a large mirror. People who try on hats want to see how they look, so of course Beane’s shop would have mirrors. But Ferry slyly includes reflective surfaces in many of the pictures in “Hats Off,” his show at Gallery Neptune & Brown. A hand mirror awaits use in one painting, and a rendering of the shop’s exterior treats the display window as a mirror of the neighborhood. Beane’s business is looking good; Ferry’s is looking.

Beane turned 100 on Sept. 13, a date designated “Vanilla Beane Day” by mayoral proclamation. Ferry’s tribute is this suite of paintings and drawings, which he began after moving to the Brightwood neighborhood. There he discovered Bené Millinery, whose clients have included Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou. The hat maker herself, though, is the only person Ferry portrays.

The shop is a traditional sort of place, which Ferry chronicles with old-fashioned realist technique. The paintings are oils and mostly still lifes, observing the hats as if they were flower arrangements or bowls of fruit. These pictures can be appreciated for their documentary value or as studies in color, massing, texture and shadow.

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There’s more dynamism in the drawings, made with colored chalk or charcoal with white highlights. Ferry used the latter media to make the vivid “Magic,” in which the hat maker’s hands are so active that they multiply. In a show of quiet pictures of finished products, this drawing crackles with the energy of work in progress.

Benjamin Ferry: Hats Off Through Oct. 12 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.

Faustin Adeniran

Not all of the symbols in Faustin Adeniran’s artwork are easily deciphered, but parts of the assemblage at the center of Mehari Sequar Gallery’s “Discarded” are easily understood. A pipe leads to a tub of black goo, which clearly represents the ecological devastation caused by the petroleum industry in Adeniran’s native Nigeria. Now based in Connecticut, the artist fills his artworks with oil barrels and other metal detritus, wrapped in fabric that’s frozen in place.

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Many of Adeniran’s pieces, all but one wall-mounted, are 3-D laments. He mourns oil-spill victims in his “Anonymous” series, and grieves the despoiled African landscape and the fading traditional culture of his Yoruba ancestors. His new home also is a source of unease. “Discarded” was inspired in part by American throwaway culture, which is why the sculptures include many bits of soft drink cans. Adeniran cuts and punches single-use containers into glittering bits that he arranges into trash-heap mosaics.

The meaning of some objects is more specific: A lantern exemplifies the artist’s search for himself, while an antiquated sewing machine stands for Nigeria’s outdated political aristocracy. These are solemn themes to be expressed by clusters of rubbish, but Adeniran gives his concoctions an impressive formality. They’re made of junk, yet they have the heft of marble.

Faustin Adeniran: Discarded Through Oct. 11 at Mehari Sequar Gallery, 1402 H St. NE.

Nancy Sansom Reynolds

Origami artists fold paper into stylized approximations of much more substantial things. Inspired by origami paper, Nancy Sansom Reynolds twists wood into shapes that suggest sheets and ribbons of much more malleable materials. Her Addison/Ripley Fine Art show, “Unwinding,” features two dozen twists and turns of laminated plywood, partly painted with bright but translucent acrylics.

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Sansom Reynolds, a former Washingtonian who lives in Arizona, bases her gently curving lines in part on desert vistas. Perhaps Southwest landscapes also inform her frequent strategy of coloring the wall-facing side of her constructions while leaving the fronts unpainted. This yields soft, reflected hues and a sense that a crucial aspect is partly out of reach, like a distant view that dips below the horizon.

Yet the qualities that seem most central to the sculptures are color and grain — which the lightly applied pigment doesn’t hide — and movement. “Unwinding” suggests an ongoing process, however slow, and so do these wooden curls. They’re alive with color and static energy.

Nancy Sansom Reynolds: Unwinding Through Oct. 12 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Rosemary Feit Covey

There’s a pleasing symmetry between what Rosemary Feit Covey depicts and how she depicts it. Most of the works in “The Dark Re-Imagined,” the Alexandria artist’s show at Morton Fine Art, begin with wood engraving. The white-on-black images are usually supplemented with painted colors and sometimes built up with thread or small found objects. But the incised lines are fundamental, and apt for conveying such hidden natural systems as a fish skeleton or a network of submerged fungi.

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Feit Covey has worked with doctors and scientists — including at Georgetown University Medical School’s morgue — so her art is grounded in biological knowledge. Yet the works in this show are not mere illustrations. They attempt to convey the abundance of life, the inevitability of death and the link between the two. In such intricate compositions as the swirling “Fish,” the individual blurs into the collective, much as dead things are reabsorbed into living ones. Like a clump of black earth, Feit Covey’s pictures are dark but fecund.

Rosemary Feit Covey: The Dark Re-Imagined Through Oct. 9 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302.

Appelhoff & Goedeke

Primarily a fashion term, “Normcore” combines “normal” and “hardcore” to denote people who are zealous about appearing ordinary. At Transformer, Berlin artists Sascha Appelhoff and Lena von Goedeke borrow the concept to challenge “the cliche of the uptight rule-following German,” according to a gallery note.

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They’ve designed a black-on-white installation with simple, repeated patterns on the wall, the floor and cardboard boxes. The elements aren’t flashy, but they’re not as regular as the pin stripes on a button-down shirt. The wallpaper consists of black-outlined shapes that resemble rocks more than Euclidean forms, and the boxes are folded every which way and scattered through the space. “Normcore” isn’t exactly an environment of Bauhaus-like rigor. Indeed, the experience of being inside it is a bit abnormal.

The show closes Oct. 10, but the gist of it will remain until Nov. 16 as a storefront exhibition, viewable only from outside.

Sascha Appelhoff & Lena von Goedeke: Normcore Through Oct. 10 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW.

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