Michael Hunter Thompson’s pool photograph fits well with several others by Ashton Thornhill, who surveys the incongruities of Marfa, Tex., a small desert colony that has become a top art colony. Marfa is home to a picturesque liquor store, the retro El Cheapo, but also a Prada shoe boutique. A distinctive shot of three curved benches under two puddles of light, by Rick Ruggles, has no documentary value. Its effect is nearly abstract.
Equally stark and striking is Andrew Wodzianski’s picture of a tree illuminated in a black forest that has the tonal quality of a black-and-white photo but is an oil painting. Using photography to simulate oil painting, Coriolana Simon makes precise still lifes whose black backdrops set off luminous renderings of metal and porcelain. More fancifully, Suzanne Vigil portrays a woman and a nesting goose on a partly submerged bicycle under a full moon.
Among the strongest abstractions are Diane Szczepaniak’s overlapping blocks of green and maroon; Nihal Kececi’s patches of blackness bisected by a pulse of white and pale blue; and Chee Keong Kung’s minimalist blots, barely visible on fields of white. They might not evoke night especially, but they’re as potent in their way as Thompson’s study in turquoise and magenta.
Terron Cooper Sorrells’s “The Railroad,” in Strathmore’s Invitational Gallery, also contains night scenes. The Washington-area artist’s series depicts the Underground Railroad. The journey is chronicled in dynamic expressionist paintings, as well as lithographs that retain the character of the drawings that preceded them.
Sorrells’s pictures employ dramatic lighting and compositions, often with significant things in the foreground. In “Mother’s Milk,” a woman nurses her baby, their flesh tinted red by the lantern before them. “Wade in the Water” portrays travelers up to their hips in water, with both an alligator and a snake between them and land. Such scenes might be theatrical, but they give Sorrells’s paintings an urgency worthy of their subject.
Night and Terron Cooper Sorrells: The Railroad Through Feb. 17 at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda.
The party’s over in Maggie Siner’s blocky, yet fluid oils of tables lined with half-empty glasses and beds strewn with clothing. “The Language of Painting,” the artist’s Susan Calloway Fine Arts show, is full of rumpled sheets and tablecloths. The cloth is usually white, its folds conjured by deft strokes of gray and pale blue. But one of the largest of these pictures adds the tension of the complementary colors of its title, “Red Dress on Green Bed.”
Siner, whose sensuous work has been in several recent shows, offers here a more comprehensive survey. It turns out that fabric in her pictures isn’t always disembodied: There’s a woman in a blue dress, although with her back to the viewer, and several separate views of an apparently unclothed man under the sheets on what seems to be the same morning after. The connection between the attire and the person who wears it, always hinted in Siner’s paintings, is rendered explicit.
The selection also includes a dozen appealing small landscapes of urban Italy and rural France. Siner depicts solid things such as stone buildings and fields full of lavender, but makes them appear more transitory than her other paintings’ domestic objects. She captures the scene as it registers in a glance, not as it has existed for centuries. A spontaneous brushstroke can rumple history.
Maggie Siner: The Language of Painting Through Feb. 16 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
To Bear Witness
Made by Holocaust survivors and children of survivors, the artworks in “To Bear Witness” at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington are grounded in precise details. Margot Neuhaus, whose work is usually spare, has added a genealogical chart to her swoops of pigment on paper. Ephemeral and imposing at the same time, the gestures suggest the pillars of a monument.
Allan Gerson’s photos of Jewish sites in his German ancestral home include — and are, in a sense — a self-portrait. Mindy Weisel etches her father’s Auschwitz ID number into a suitcase that evokes deportation and exile. Micheline Klagsbrun employs her usual style, combining drawing and painting to make fluid semi-abstractions. The inspiration comes not from her customary mythological themes, but from photos of her mother’s and her hands.
Photos of her uncle’s 1941 Prague wedding are a resource for Miriam Morsel Nathan, who uses gum transfers to combine the images in evocative ways, sometimes behind fabric that suggests a veil. She supplements those collages with six prints of her aunt’s dress, each a different hue. This boldly colorful gambit brings a memento to life.
To Bear Witness: The Art of Testimony Through Feb. 21 at Bender JCC of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Rd., Rockville.
David R. Ibata
The five large portraits in David R. Ibata’s “I See a Darkness” are linked to workaday life by objects both within and outside the picture frame. One of the tattooed male subjects wears a police officer’s uniform; others are paired with such actual objects as a shovel or a pack of Marlboros and an engraved Zippo lighter. Yet there also are mythic elements to the works in the artist’s show at Transformer.
Ibata is compelled by brute masculinity, both experienced in his own life and as portrayed in pop culture. The local artist specifies which music inspired each painting, a list that includes Richard Wagner and A$AP Lotto. (The show’s title comes from a Bonnie “Prince” Billy tune.) The tattoos, which include a “white power” symbol, represent “the burden some men carry,” the African American artist says.
That burden leads to weariness evident on the faces of the artist’s subjects, which range from mug-shot type images to a “God of War,” a figure modeled on Valasquez’s 1640 painting “Mars Resting.” Ibata, who’s been a copyist at the National Gallery since 2012, knows that male violence is a classic topic.
David R. Ibata: I See a Darkness Through Feb. 23 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a photo of three benches as being photographed by Ashton Thornhill. The photographer was Rick Ruggles.