Some mid-20th-century California artists distinguished themselves by emulating the glossy finishes of cars, motorcycles and surfboards. One of the heirs to that candy-colored tradition is artist, teacher and software designer Greg Braun, who lives in small-town Virginia but is devoted to custom-built 1970s motorcycles from Northern California. In “Sharpened,” Braun’s show at VisArts, such period mechanical design is chopped into a variety of abstract forms, from International Style architecture to the sensation of movement.
Made of wood, drywall and sometimes metal tubing, Braun’s sculptures celebrate streamlining. Six floor pieces are wing-like structures, and two wall-mounted ones are sequences of fins designed to suggest both a journey through a changing landscape and the machine that provides the locomotion. Surfaces are painted a single bright color but with contrasting shades on edges and opposite sides, and sometimes transitions spatter from one hue to the next. Compared to real choppers and hot rods, these constructions are austere, but austere in hot red, yellow and fuchsia.
At one end of the gallery, a large-format photo of a modernist Foggy Bottom building spotlights its aerodynamic affectations. At the other, the yellow and blue “Sky Viper” surges 12 feet up; it’s the closet thing to a skyscraper the artist could have built under this ceiling. The tower stands near six computer terminals on which Braun, who teaches computer-assisted design, has cached diverse inspirations for his style.
Is “Sharpened” an industrial workshop or a retail showroom? Neither, but it plays at being both. In display windows facing the street, Braun has mounted pens that appear to be launching like rockets. The artist, who did something similar with pencils recently at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, clearly relishes things that are contoured, even if pointlessly, for thrust. In Braun’s universe, everything is better if it at least appears ready to zoom.
Greg Braun: Sharpened On view through July 5 at Gibbs Street Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville, Md. 301-315-8200. www.visartscenter.org.
A car buff, Tom Kenyon has built a full-size model of a little roadster for his show at Waverly Street Gallery, “Dreams of Speed . . . Supercharged!” Paper-and-plastic facsimiles of car parts are scattered through the selection, but most of the works are small collages or linoleum block prints. There’s a mid-20th-century sensibility to Kenyon’s work: One of the collages includes a Marilyn Monroe-like pinup, and several pieces are printed on portions of Japanese newspapers, evoking the era when Asian-made cars were just beginning to be taken seriously. Whether depicting a full vehicle or just a spark plug, Kenyon favors clean lines and human craftsmanship. He shows no more interest in computerized cars than he does in digital prints.
Tom Kenyon: Dreams of Speed . . . Supercharged! On view through July 3 at Waverly Street Gallery, 4600 East-West Hwy., Bethesda, Md. 301-951-9441. www.waverlystreetgallery.com.
Emily Piccirillo doesn’t simply paint clouds; she also floats them in space. The multipanel pictures in her “Lucent Moments,” at Zenith Gallery, are arranged in grids and attached to metal rods. The steel frames hold the paintings taut and away from the wall, and vivid color fields on the back of the canvases gently reflect off the surface behind them. The pictures depict the play of clouds, sky and unseen sun, and the hues bouncing from behind the images add another luminous element.
The local artist’s style is photorealist, so the white wisps and azure backdrops are rendered exactingly. Since she usually arrays variations on the same scene, the paintings recall pop art’s taste for repetition. Piccirillo, however, uses neither photography nor lithography. She’s part minimalist, part neoclassical realist.
Piccirillo tweaks her customary subject by silhouetting black trees in front of blue sky, or even depicting only trees, always from a gazing-heavenward perspective. She sometimes perforates patterns in the canvas or cuts a square from a picture and relocates it. Pink seeps into the lower panels in one composition, and “The Flesh We Breathe” ponders racism by substituting shades of brown for the usual deep blue and cottony white. Usually, though, the latter two colors are all she needs — at least on the front of the canvas.
Lucent Moments — The Works of Emily Piccirillo On view through July 3 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. www.zenithgallery.com.
Clouds are Caroline Adams’s principal concern as well, yet some of the most striking paintings in her “Departure” at Susan Calloway Fine Arts emphasize the textures of earth. The show includes a set of five pictures, grouped tightly together, that are all blue backdrop and billows of white and gray. Another cohesive series is painted with egg tempera and oil on small wooden panels; these emphasize land over sky and deploy the panels’ grain to evoke the roughness of rock and soil. They also highlight the looseness of the artist’s brushwork, though spontaneous gestures and welcomed imperfections also are visible in large oils such as “Next Year.”
Adams, a well-traveled D.C. artist who’s about to move to Germany, frequently titles her work with references to time. But paintings dubbed “Bright Tomorrow” or “Yesterday’s Afternoon” don’t reveal an actual chronology. “Yesterday” and “tomorrow” are always in flux, which is why that five-painting suite is so expressive: It both freezes and multiplies the ideal instant of memory or anticipation.
Departure: Caroline Adams On view through July 11 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. www.callowayart.com.
Nearby and remote scenery meld in the semi-imaginary landscapes of Kiu Kavousi, a local painter who was born near the Caspian Sea. Working with thinned and layered acrylics, the artist makes all-over paintings whose subtle shifts of color suggest fields of wildflowers or mountain slopes. Often, and more realistically, he renders boats beached on sandy shores, framed by large expanses of blue above.
Writing of his childhood in northern Iran, the artist describes how the Alborz Mountains divide the country “like a giant fabric curtain.” Perhaps that image is the inspiration for Kavousi’s paintings on cardboard, folded horizontally to resemble a slatted blind, or on paper that’s vertically and irregularly rumpled. The effect of “Blue Ridge Mountain,” the show’s largest piece, relies as much on its deep folds as its exuberant hues. It’s a craggy landscape in itself, as well as a representation of one.
Kiu Kavousi On view through July 9 at P Street Gallerie, 3235 P St. NW. 202-333-4868. www.pstreetgallerie.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.