Intense color, grand scale and variations on a theme are all artistic devices that were common long before the rise of abstract painting. But they seem particularly suited to abstract expressionism, whether in Robert Motherwell’s vast series of “Elegies” or such suites as Barnett Newman’s 14-canvas “Stations of the Cross” (on display at the National Gallery). Kiril Jeliazkov’s “The Orange Step” is not in their league, but it does have one advantage over them: The set of 128 huge, vertical banners is designed to be displayed outside, where it defines open space as it bows to the surrounding greenery,
Jeliazkov, a Bulgaria-born Washingtonian, couldn’t get enough land to show all of “Step” in the District. But he has unfurled 81 of the 22-foot-high paintings in two locations: Georgetown’s Rose Park and along Massachusetts Avenue NW near the Naval Observatory. At the first site, groups of pictures draw a nearly straight line on the park’s south side and form an arc around a baseball diamond on the north. At the second, the artworks are split between two triangular greens, where they’re planted in groves amid the trees.
This is the fifth installation of “Step,” first erected in 2006 near Jeliazkov’s Bulgarian birthplace. Built for heavy weather, the paintings are on vinyl sheets, rendered with water-based paints formulated for durability, and hoisted in sets of two per metal pole. The pictures’ gestures appear spontaneous, even ephemeral, but their underlying materials are sturdy.
Jeliazkov often exhibits his expressionist representational paintings at the Toolbox Pilates Art Studio near Dupont Circle. His abstractions are more appealing, if far from innovative. Most of them are allover compositions, with bold hues in energetic motion. A few feature more muted shades and a softer touch. One has a red footprint, revealing the artist’s presence while demonstrating how the pictures dwarf their creator.
Towering and festive, “The Orange Step” emulates both architecture and nature. It’s made to be walked through, or around, and to be contemplated from a distance or up close. These are paintings, of course, but the groupings of them outdoors are most effective as Christo-style environmental art. They reframe existing vistas so they can be seen anew.
Kiril Jeliazkov: The Orange Step Through June 7 at Rose Park, 26th and P streets NW, and near 35th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. kirilism.com.
There’s more “less” than “more” in “More or Less,” an 18-artist show at Hemphill Fine Arts that should mesmerize fans of minimalism. Many of the pictures feature simple forms, obsessively repeated motifs and muted colors, especially gray. Douglas Witmer splashes a band of watery blue across a concrete-hued field; Robin Rose endows a subtle weave to an off-white expanse; Pete Schulte offers two gray geometric figures that simulate 3-D; and Stephen Benedicto burnishes a semi-sculptural plaster-graphite-and-ink piece to a metallic sheen. Among the few representational works are a pair of Kevin MacDonald drawings of interior spaces that could hardly be less emphatic in subject or color.
The selection includes a 1974 stripe painting — nine feet wide but less than nine inches high — by Gene Davis, the best known of the artists. Compared with the late Washington colorist’s most vivid work, the low-key “Javelin” is not quite “more.” But there are hot hues in paintings by Michael West, who uses metal leaf to add glimmer, and Jeremy Flick, who coolly arrays blocks of color so they appear to hover above a gray-scale grid. The most expressionist pictures are Ryan Crotty’s mottled deep-red abstraction and Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s luxuriant black-and-blue nocturne. In a gallery full of orderly surface patterns, these two paintings draw the eye into incalculable depths.
More or Less Through June 9 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601, hemphillfinearts.com.
New York artist Liz Lessner wants to touch you. Most of the sculptures in “Call and Response,” her well-made and intriguing Honfleur Gallery show, appear at first to be simply wisps of gypsum and fiberglass. In fact, they illustrate ways in which people make contact: a hand on someone’s back, for example, or the proximity of cheeks during an air kiss. In her statement, Lessner calls them “gestures of negotiation and desire.”
Lessner sometimes supplements the white curves with electronics and interactive touches, including light, scent and sound. A suspended plastic box, open on the bottom, is meant to be experienced with the spectator’s head inside it. The largest construction presents 26 disembodied mouths, molded in pink epoxy, on a metal framework that moves with the action of crank. Mounted on a hanging wooden semicircle are seven more mouths, which sigh, murmur and occasionally exclaim, “I love you.” This signal is aural rather than corporeal, but it’s also a call that elicits a response.
Liz Lessner: Call and Response Through June 9 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. honfleurgallery.com.
The essential elements in Dafna Steinberg’s two concurrent shows are pictures, text and erotic autobiography. At Vivid, “And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” reflects on a failed relationship with found images, many of them from girlie magazines. At Metro Micro Gallery, “Diary of a Self-Important Fat Girl” employs photos the local artist made and originally posted on social media.
Steinberg’s artistic demeanor is both rebellious and self-doubting. “Tell me you love me,” implores a collage at Metro Micro, where dozens of wadded-up, apparently inadequate efforts overflow a trash can. (Perhaps Steinberg’s mash-ups should be introduced to Liz Lessner’s mouths.) The Vivid show is more confrontational. It dehumanizes nude models by concealing their faces, juxtaposing their sexed-up bodies with religious imagery, misogynist artifacts and an explicit medical drawing. The impetus is personal, but Steinberg also seeks to speak for everywoman. “She is not,” a Metro Micro broadside proclaims, “a mistake that requires an apology.”
Dafna Steinberg: And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt Through June 9 at Vivid, 2208 Martin Luther King Ave. SE. 202-631-6291. www.vividgallerydc.com. Dafna Steinberg: Diary of a Self-Important Fat Girl Through June 30 at Metro Micro Gallery, 3409 Wilson Blvd. (Kansas Street side), Arlington. metromicrogallery.com.