The atmosphere is humid at the American University Museum, where Christine Neill, Pam Rogers, Lynn Sures and Mel Watkin are showing botanically inspired art. But the show with the most tropical vibe is D.C. photographer Frank Hallam Day’s “Dark World,” much of it the result of fruitful expeditions to Thailand.

Day’s world is dark because he shoots at night to capture mottled skies and dramatic juxtapositions of light and shadow. This selection includes pictures of RVs aglow in the Florida near-jungle and a haunted forest scene with a Buddhist temple illuminated in the distance. The most astonishing pictures are close-ups of Bangkok pay phones, their garish artificial colors tempered by wear and graffiti, and bathed in the neon of nearby signs. Light also diffuses through scratched glass and smudged plastic, yielding pictorial regions of milky mystery. Through one such partition is a blur of yellow umbrella that rhymes visually with the yellow phone on the other side.

The artist has shown many of these pictures before. “Dark World’s” innovation is to put the booths at the center of complex urban vignettes that stretch across two, three or even six large panels. The show also includes photos from several other series, and features a video of phone-kiosk scenes and a wall of small street-food vignettes. One of those pictures demonstrates that plastic is almost as crucial to Day’s vision as light: He can make a cheap translucent bag appear to be a window to another universe.

In another age, Christine Neill might have spent her career celebrating nature’s beauty. There’s much of that in her “Observations From the Valley Floor,” but these delicate yet vigorous mixed-media pictures also contain intimations of disaster. Among the exemplary pieces are depictions of the fatal bleaching of coral reefs and the damage done by invasive insect species.

Neill combines traditional drawing, printmaking and watercolor painting with contemporary devices and techniques. She often uses Plexiglas to position imagery on multiple levels, and sometimes laser-cuts paper to yield details such as actual perforations in bug-chewed leaves. The precision of the renderings contrasts looser gestures and the lush pileup of overlapping elements. Nature is under attack in Neill’s pictures, but still teeming.

The three female artists in “Topographies of Life” also portray nature without necessarily representing it literally. Pam Rogers employs plant, soil and mineral pigments in ink and pencil drawings that are semiabstract, yet plainly rooted in vegetation. She also incorporates authentic botanical specimens, tied to the pictures or hung amid them. Rogers occasionally uses gold leaf, but the natural elements are her art’s precious talismans.

Lynn Sures does realistic colored-pencil drawings of landscapes and archaeological finds, including skulls, bones and hand axes. The style is subtle, with rippling near-parallel lines and a narrow range of hues. The artist makes pictures on paper, but also with paper, composing tableaux with blobs of colored flax and embossed pulp. Blurring image and medium, Sures makes art that fuses with its sources.

Another pencil-pusher, Mel Watkin produces elaborate drawings whose details suggest natural forms but whose spiraling, symmetrical wholes are clearly imaginary. The artist elicits exceptionally bold colors and uses modeling impressively to simulate depth. Adding an ironic other dimension, the looping inventions sprawl across multiple sheets of gridded graph paper. Watkin’s engrossing pictures might be called curves against the machine.

Frank Hallam Day: Dark World; Christine Neill: Observations From the Valley Floor; Pam Rogers, Lynn Sures, Mel Watkin: Topographies of Life Through Dec. 15 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Places in Paper

One takeaway from “Places in Paper” is that members of the Guild of American Papercutters have an affinity for buildings, especially churches. The strong lines of domes and spires, chiseled in space, suit the artists’s process, which is essentially drawing by removing. Cutting away paper to reveal a structure’s ribs is an effective technique, whether the result is as stark as Odeta Brazeniene’s “Komajai Church” or as elaborate as Richard Goodall’s “Sainte Chapelle, Paris.”

The last of those is one of two 3-D pieces in this selection, now at Gallery 3700 and soon to move to Westover Library. The show was curated by Melanie Kehoss, a civic-minded Arlingtonian who celebrates the county’s aviation history in her cutout. Another standout is by Baltimore’s Rosa Leff, who works from her own photographs to depict such places as an abandoned factory framed by barbed wire. Other participants hail from all over the country (save for Brazeniene, who’s from Lithuania).

Kehoss and Leff are among the artists who employ multiple colors, although not so realistically as Richard Schuchman, whose photo-derived nature scene is superbly detailed. Color is not essential, though, to an art form whose closest equivalent is woodblock printmaking. Indeed, Jason Koons’s masterly rendering of a coiled rope could be taken for a woodcut. It’s vivid and direct, with everything unnecessary carved away.

Places in Paper Through Dec. 8 at Gallery 3700, 3700 Four Mile Run, Arlington. Dec. 17-Feb. 18 at Westover Library, 1644 N. McKinley Rd., Arlington.

Still Here

Another papercutter, Antonius-Tín Bui, is among four artists featured in “Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS,” at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Gallery. Intricately clipped from sheets of red paper, Bui’s pieces pair faces of traditional Asian theater characters with mottoes such as “Fight Segregaytion” (with the added “y” very much intentional). All four contributors include text in their work, which is displayed alongside 16 panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the collective remembrance begun in 1987.

Where the quilt’s sentiments are hushed, the rest of the show speaks loudly. Shan Kelley sloganizes with single-letter cyanotype sheets, and Lucas Rougeux matches graffitilike stenciled text to splashes of crimson pigment, protesting bans on blood donations by gay people. John Paradiso combines embroidery and floral motifs with eroticism, interweaving strands of yellow plastic tape that warns “Caution Men Working.” Like Bui, Paradiso both respects and redefines the conventions of crafts work.

Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS Through Dec. 7 at Stamp Gallery, Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park.