Stephen Hansen’s “Great Moments in Art” might be described as a one-joke show, except that the gags just keep coming. Zenith Salon’s latest showcase for the frisky New Mexico artist features his usual big-nosed, soft-bodied alter egos — comic-strip nebbishes brought to 3-D life with papier-mâché and other materials. Now they’ve become painters, capable of impressive copies of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Picasso and many others. Wearing the paint-spattered coveralls of house painters, the comic artisans stand or sit on hanging wooden platforms in front of noted masterworks, each one painstakingly simulated by Hansen.
Actually, not all the painters are on wooden platforms. The one who’s touching up Botticelli’s Venus perches on a seashell that mirrors the one from which the goddess has just been born. Such visual quips abound. A craftsman who is trying to work on Salvador Dali’s flaccid clocks finds that his brush and bucket also have gone mushy. The guy in front of a Van Gogh canvas has an even bigger problem: Crows have flown off the surface and grabbed his tools. Sometimes there are two clowns, a classic vaudeville format, so one can point out the other’s error. That Magritte was supposed to feature an apple, not an eggplant, you bumbler!
Hansen clearly wants his art history slapstick to elicit smiles. But he does dispense a little commentary as well. Brushes yield to rollers, not always well controlled, when the painters reproduce the color fields of Mondrian and Rothko. An artisan leers at one of Hopper’s women, or redirects the female gaze of a Lichtenstein picture derived from a true-romance comic. Sometimes the traffic goes the other way, and creatures leave paintings to commune with the painters.
The most cosmic exchange recasts a famous image from the Sistine ceiling. In the beginning, Hansen puckishly suggests, was the paintbrush.
Great Moments in Art: Works by Stephen Hansen On view through Jan. 30 at Zenith Salon, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. zenithgallery.com.
“Color Texture Shape,” a five-artist show at the Watergate Gallery, encompasses painting, sculpture and photography. But some of its most intriguing entries are somewhere in between.
Haitian American artist Wainwright Dawson’s wall sculptures are lively street-scene miniatures, partly painted and constructed entirely of found objects. Restaurants, hotel and bars beckon, as do the figures of women; some are photographs cut from magazines, while others are 3-D figurines.
The tropical openness Dawson depicts is a contrast to Helen Zughaib’s gouache of a woman behind an actual wooden screen of the sort used in the Middle East to protect homes from sun, and women from men’s eyes.
Zughaib is in the contrast business, juxtaposing Arab tradition and American modernity. She’s also showing an Islamic prayer rug that incorporates a border of U.S. flags.
A star-spangled banner punctuates one of Eduardo Gyles’s photographs, a snow scene. But mostly he uses macro lenses for elegant close-ups of flowers, leaves and the occasional set of butterfly wings. There’s a hint of landscape in Wendy Plotkin-Mates’s abstract paintings, which are often thickly textured and in extreme vertical or horizontal formats. Jeff Chyatte, who, like Zughaib, is a gallery regular, fabricates puzzle-like geometric pieces of textured-surface aluminum. While the other artists observe humanity or nature, Chyatte’s work is glistening math.
Color Texture Shape On view through Jan. 16 at the Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave NW. 202-338-4488. watergategalleryframedesign.com.
Although she is from Philadelphia, Elizabeth Osborne has an affinity with the District’s color-painting tradition. She began exhibiting in the 1960s and showed during that decade at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, which helped define the Washington Color School. The work in “Color Bloc,” however, would be more at home in the Phillips Collection. Like the artists Duncan Phillips championed, Osborne is a colorist, but also, mostly, a representationalist.
The Luther W. Brady Gallery exhibition, which compiles chiefly paintings made since 2010, does include a few abstractions. These feature bands of bright colors and wavy brushstrokes that carry the eye across the canvas. The pictures combine color-field compositions with the painterliness of less austere styles.
More often, the subjects are drawn from life, yet are not the crux of the picture. “Ex Libris” depicts a case filled with books whose spines are simplified to blocks of color; in “Silhouette,” a person showers in misty outline, while a nearby towel doubles as a stripe painting.
Only “Castellane,” a soft-toned 1980 landscape that’s the oldest thing here, is an acrylic. But Osborne often thins oil paint to get the sort of effects for which acrylic was prized. The entire surface may appear liquid, as in “Heat,” which depicts sunlight on water, or backgrounds may seem fluid behind a crisply defined figure, as in “Audrey in Profile.” Even at her most realistic, though, Osborne sees the world more as color than shape.
Color Bloc: Paintings by Elizabeth Osborne On view through Feb. 26 at George Washington University Luther W. Brady Gallery, 805 21st St. NW, Second Floor. 202-994-1525. gwu.edu/~bradyart.
A writer who also makes visual art, Hannah Spector provides a binder of her verse to accompany her Transformer show, “We Lost Our Teeth for a Second Time.” A poem that invokes “one story that cannot be ar tic ul at ed” seems especially pertinent to Spector’s installations.
They tell — or cannot tell — private tales. According to the gallery, the artist’s childlike collages and enigmatic mixed-media pieces use “shape and color in relation to myth.”
The four installations consist of decorated boards propped against painted patches of wall and incorporate plastic toys and day-care-center hues. The pastel colors contrast white-on-black patterns, including one that suggests a star-clotted universe. At the bottom of an assemblage are remains of burned books, with a scrap of the cover of a Freud text atop the pile. What that articulates is unclear, but it’s considerably more intriguing than the plastic rhino.
Hannah Spector: We Lost Our Teeth for a Second Time On view through Jan. 23 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. transformerdc.org.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.