Color is important in Alan Steele’s collaged drawings, but line is essential. The artist’s “Symmetry and Stillness,” at Adah Rose Gallery, features intricate hand-rendered patterns of parallel and interlocking strokes. At first, the mazelike figures seem mechanical, but despite their herringbone crispness they’re too idiosyncratic to have been generated automatically. Steele also incorporates bits of text and blocks of color, either atop the drawn motifs or adjacent to them. Some of the color fields are actually rectangles of corrugated cardboard, scored with regular indentations that are also lines of a sort.
If Steele’s art looks like no one else’s, many of its ingredients are familiar. These modestly scaled works conjure the graphic design of those early-20th-century art publications that first broke free of purely typographic elements. They also resemble flags, whether the pop-art ones of Jasper Johns (a few of whose words are shuffled in one Steele assemblage) or authentic national banners. The latter likeness is sometimes intended: “Manhattan Native” includes the yellow, blue and red bars of the flag of Venezuela, the longtime New Yorker’s birthplace.
There’s a defiantly pre-Photoshop feel to Steele’s art, and not just because he pays explicit homage to Johns and another pioneering modernist, Marcel Duchamp. The way Steele cuts and pastes sections of his own line work, disrupting the patterns, is distinctive. But the pieces that cut together simple shapes and primary colors recall Matisse, Picasso and the African artifacts that influenced them. (Steele is himself a dealer in South American tribal art.)
Not all of the show’s ingredients invoke the same era; one of these pieces incorporates a snippet of a 19th-century Japanese painting. Wherever and whenever the artist appropriates, though, the takings are stitched together deftly. Steele’s style isn’t symmetrical at all, but neither does it betray any loose ends.
Alan Steele: Symmetry and Stillness On view through Nov. 9 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington; 301-922-0162; www.adahrosegallery.com.
The recently opened All We Art specializes in artists from Venezuela, a category that loosely encompasses American-German-Venezuelan Anrika Rupp. But Rupp, who lives in Miami, cultivates an outlook that is beyond international. Her “PH Access” ponders both the cosmos and its smallest parts. Among the things “PH” denotes are photography, philosophy, photons and PHAs (potentially hazardous asteroids). Alas, another of her enthusiasms, fractals, doesn’t start with “ph.”
Rupp is not an astrophysicist, but she is trained as both an artist and an engineer. Blending the two disciplines yields photographs, paintings and constructions, such as her shimmering “galaxies in a box.” These present the illusion of a hot-colored sphere inside a clear cube but in fact are a sequence of paintings on aligned plastic squares. Also featured are acrylic-dot renderings of interstellar clouds on multi-layered panels, based on images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, and vignettes of a crystal-like ball that — in the tradition of Eleanor Antin’s “100 Boots” series — has been photographed while traveling the world.
Much of this work is made of Lucite and similar materials that have a bad reputation in eco-oriented contemporary art. Rupp likes clear plastics both as substances and as mediums, perhaps because they suggest various kinds of scopes though which the vast and the tiny become visible.
“I love transparency,” she says. “I want to see through the whole thing.”
Anrika Rupp: PH Random Access On view through Nov. 14 at All We Art, 1666 33rd St. NW; 202-375-9713; www.allweartstudio.com.
It’s no coincidence that “Winter Chicago,” with its vivid blacks and industrial vibe, sets the tone for Principle Gallery’s “Urban Aspect.” The painting of an elevated-train structure on a seemingly frigid day is by Jeremy Mann, the San Francisco painter who also curated this selection of work by more than 40 artists. While there’s a faint echo of the early-20th-century Ashcan School in Mann’s El vignette, most of these pictures don’t emphasize the down-and-dirty. But neither do they hail the glittery and the gentrified.
Locations range from Christobal Perez Garcia’s impressionistic Madrid to Steven S. Walker’s meticulous account of what looks like an American small town, whose wide-angle format suggests the Great Plains. There are a few recognizable landmarks, notably in Gavin Glaskas’s and James Wolford’s views of central D.C. More often, though, the goal is to document a mood rather than a place.
Many of the painters swirl yellow though urban darkness or twilight, whether to depict a blur of headlights (Jonathan Gleed’s “Hindsight”) or an entire town, glowing on a distant hill (Gina Tescon’s “Umber Shadow”).
White dominates Geoffrey Johnson’s highly abstracted Manhattan snowscape, in which sky and ground are the same hue. That’s atypical, but the artist’s balance of precision and spontaneity is characteristic of these deft, diverse pictures.
Urban Aspect On view through Nov. 5 at Principle Gallery, 208 King St., Alexandria; 703-739-9326; www.principlegallery.com.
The Old Print Gallery’s current exhibition, “Ink & Grain,” is heavy on rural scenes. That might reflect an affinity between the show’s featured genres — woodcuts, woodblocks and wood engravings — and images of a simpler life. But it’s also because the prints are predominantly from the 1930s and include nothing more recent than Lawrence N. Wilbur’s 1955 “Sundown-Stonington, Maine.”
Wilbur’s piece is black-and-white and expertly detailed, which is typical of the selection. Yet there are less-literal prints, notably Paul Wenck’s near-cubist “Horses,” with its brisk cross-hatching; Eliza Draper Gardiner’s “Cotton Candy and Candy Apples,” which is starker than its sugary subject; and Adja Yunkers’s “Head of a Traveler,” which has a looseness unusual in woodcuts.
Yunkers’s print is one of several that incorporate color, often muted and autumnal. Norma Bassett Hall’s two New Mexico views rely on tans, grays and the pale blues of a vast sky. Also gently hued, but sumptuously so, are Luigi Rist’s “Pears” and “Grapes,” both from the 1940s. A New Jersey native who switched from painting to prints after discovering Japanese woodblocks, Rist layered hues to produce a complex metallic shimmer that is far from rustic.
Ink & Grain On view through Nov. 15 at the Old Print Gallery, 1220 31st St. NW; 202-965-1818; www.oldprintgallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.