At the opening of Patrick Bermingham’s Cross MacKenzie Gallery show, “Midnight in the Clearing,” the attendees were plunged briefly into darkness. With the lights switched off, the Canadian artist discussed his technique and humans’ underappreciated ability to see at night. Artificial illumination is so widespread, he said, that “we’ve forgotten we have these primeval skills.”
Bermingham’s pictures are far from primeval, but they’re not exactly trendy. The artist paints with oils, most often on wood panels, in a nocturnal palette of gray, black and hushed greens, sometimes set off by a deep-blue sky. The show’s largest piece even forgoes the greens. Ten feet wide and monochromatic, “Study for Midway on Our Path” immerses the viewer in both night and woodland.
The artist hauls panels large enough to make such pictures into the forest, where he paints from the vantage point he wants the spectator to experience. Many of the locations are in Ontario — Bermingham doesn’t seem drawn to the topographical drama of the mountain West — but this selection also includes smaller-scale pictures made in Guatemala.
The Guatemalan landscapes depict villages and their environs, also at night. They’re unpopulated, the painter explained, because the country’s civil war made people leery of leaving their homes after sunset. That’s the only hint of menace in these paintings, which otherwise render nighttime as placid. In the darkness that Bermingham conjures, it’s not nature that people should fear.
As proprietor Rebecca Cross noted on opening night, Cross MacKenzie is about to go dark at its Georgetown location. After this show closes, Cross will operate the gallery from her Loudoun County home. She will continue to represent her artists at art fairs, which are supplanting galleries as venues to see and especially sell artwork. The move will leave the Book Hill neighborhood of Georgetown with just four galleries, following the closure of Maurine Littleton and Neptune & Brown’s relocation to 14th Street NW.
Patrick Bermingham: Midnight in the Clearing Through April 13 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
William Woodward is not literally an Old Master, of course. But the local painter has the range and technique of one, and “Master Drawings 1958-2018” is a fitting title for his show at Addison/Ripley Fine Art. The drawings (and a few watercolors) are loosely rendered yet immaculate, whether they’re evocative little sketches of France and Spain or detailed studies for his large “Seven Deadly Sins” paintings.
The latter set, exhibited at the American University Museum in 2017, depicts human weakness as a sort of circus, with lots of mocking simians. Studies for three of the seven paintings are here, along with views of actual circuses that prove Woodward is just as good at elephants as monkeys. Among the simpler subjects are European cafes, a staircase that juts into the Adriatic and children playing hide-and-seek in a classical garden.
The artist employs just about everything that can produce a line, including pencil, charcoal, conte crayon, pen and ink, and razor blades. Sometimes he fills space with ink or paint washes or adds highlights with pastel or white crayon. Woodward’s paintings have impressive depth and richness, but this selection demonstrates that he can conjure worlds with more limited means.
William Woodward: Master Drawings 1958-2018 Through April 13 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Where Woodward’s drawings of Europe were made over the course of decades, Foon Sham’s “Twist of Lime” flows entirely from a two-month residency in 2018 in the south of France. The Macau-bred Virginia artist was inspired by the region’s colors and culture, and its wood, to make the sculptures now at Gallery Neptune & Brown. He extrapolated the citrus slice in a glass of mineral water into a chimney-like construction of wooden wedges that curve into a wave. The piece’s exterior is painted a limey green, but the material’s natural hue is visible at its core.
Sham was taken with the region’s colorful shutters, which he sketched as well as emulated in painted wood. Several of these pastels hang with a few landscapes and proposal drawings for the sort of towering sculptures the artist has erected around town.
The 3-D works in this show are the opposite of monumental, so they could be shipped from France with relative ease. Many of them are wall pieces, often with crossbars that skewer the surrounding curves. The bar through “Eye Exam” is even movable. That’s one of many playful touches in a show whose title also refers to Sham’s decision to tweak his own established style.
Foon Sham: Twist of Lime Through April 20 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.
They’re not postcards, but the little paper rectangles in the Athenaeum’s “Checks & Balances” do bear tidings from far away. Virginia native Alexandra N. Sherman, who lived for a time in London, found a cache of British checks from the 1930s, their engraved blue filigree contrasted by information stamped functionally in black ink. The artist uses these as backdrops for collages.
Most often, the added images are derived from natural-history illustrations. Fish, flowers and mushrooms nuzzle the intricate blue lines, and sometimes tell stories of a sort. In one four-panel sequence, out-of-proportion sea creatures appear to attack a group of ships. The collagist also plunders art books, borrowing images from artists as varied as Sandro Botticelli, Aubrey Beardsley and Max Ernst. The goal is to express “the anxieties of living in an age of incredible political and uncertainty,” according to a gallery note. Yet Sherman’s tone seems more whimsical rather than troubled.
The three artists of “Water Works,” also at the Athenaeum, work on a larger scale and employ actual drips and simulated ripples to represent looking at and through water. The most colorful pieces are by Lisa Tubach, whose energetic paintings are nearly abstract but contain suggestions of aquatic creatures. Suzanne Yurdin pursues a similar strategy but hints more at landscape. Bluest are Rhonda Smith’s prints, in which undulating lines and tightly packed circles might be currents and bubbles. Smith evokes lagoons and canals with elementary forms and the colors of faded jeans.
Alexandra N. Sherman: Checks & Balances and Lisa Tubach, Suzanne Yurdin and Rhonda Smith: Water Works Through April 14 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.