Painting dominated gallery, salon and museum for centuries, but its hegemony is now challenged not just by video and performance, but also by drawing. Not that Carolyn Reese-Tomlin intends to replace oils and acrylics with pastels and charcoal. Her Washington Studio School show, “Passing Through Time,” contains both drawings and paintings. Yet the latter appear modest next to black-and-white epics such as “Whose Woods Are These?”
To be precise, the six-foot-high piece is not merely a drawing. There’s paint, glue and multiple levels in the local artist’s jittery vision, which draws on cubism and expressionism to evoke a dire environmental future. Built up over years with bits of cut and torn paper, “Woods” is an elaborate construction whose sooty palette and ragged surfaces also hint at destruction.
Her art synthesizes “dreams, symbols and the physically real,” Reese-Tomlin writes, and the effect is not always foreboding. Some of the paintings are gentler, although even in those, the artist tends toward deep, dark hues. Another large, layered piece is titled “He Comes to Kill Her,” and one of its elements is a silvery crescent that resembles a blade. These dense, near-sculptural drawings reward prolonged inspection, but time spent with them is not reassuring.
Carolyn Reese-Tomlin: Passing Through Time On view through June 25 at Washington Studio School, 2129 S St. NW. 202-234-3030. washingtonstudioschool.org.
There are several portraits of George Washington Carver on the first floor of Howard University’s new Interdisciplinary Research Building. Some are photographs, but the most evocative is a symbolic representation: a room full of talismans and plants that represent both the pioneering scientist’s work and his African heritage. Anne Bouie’s installation is one of the highlights of “Creative Alchemy,” a six-artist show that marks the center’s opening.
The other works include two by Renee Stout, who also employs found objects. Where Bouie uses shells, seed pods and other organic items, Stout combines African-style totems with vintage electronic gear. In her wall-mounted assemblage on the third floor, the dials of antique radios are tuned to settings such as “empathy” and “creativity.” Nearby are Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery’s shimmering prints, in which glyphs seem to pierce metallic-ink surfaces that change character from different viewpoints.
On the fourth floor is Angelina Sumadre’s installation, a desk covered with scientific gear and specimens, outfitted for discovery. Around the corner are the landscape-like abstractions of Roslyn Cambridge’s “The Earth’s Reaction” series. With semicircles that evoke both geometry and geology, these handsome pictures alchemize science and art.
Creative Alchemy: Common Source of Art and Science On view through June 30 at Howard University Interdisciplinary Research Building, 2201 Georgia Ave. NW. 202-903-6179.
“Architecture is frozen music,” Goethe reputedly said, a phrase that suits the abstractions in the Athenaeum’s “Pattern and Repetition.” Stephen Boocks and Reni Gower arrange lines and circles in vigorously contrasting colors. Boocks even gives musical cues by naming paintings after songs and lyrics.
Gower’s pictures are loosely painted but tightly formatted. Most of them array bull’s eyes amid vertical or horizontal stripes. There’s also a mixed-media piece whose bars are lengths of hanging fabric. Boocks’s compositions are more open, but with repeated motifs to highlight the underlying grid. Rather than apply paint freely to contrast the orderly color fields, he often snakes twisting but hard-edge lines through them.
Among Boocks’s pictures is a series whose hues suggest forests and mountains, which may simply be an homage to the album from which the artist took their titles: Eno’s “Another Green World.” Other standouts include “Feel Like a Tourist,” which winds a single black line through tidy rows of yellow dots atop a mottled red backdrop. This stark and cogent painting, named after a Gang of Four lyric, is frozen funk-punk.
Pattern and Repetition: Stephen Boocks and Reni Gower On view through June 25 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. 703-548-0035. nvfaa.org.
Even if none of Saya Behnam’s paintings included Farsi script, which a few do, the influence of Persian illuminated manuscripts would be clear just from the colors. The Tehran-born, Leesburg-based artist’s elegant pictures are abstract rather than representational, but they’re clearly linked to tradition. Her Artist’s Proof show, “Saffron & Tea,” glistens with flower and mineral pigments used for centuries in one-of-a-kind illustrated books.
In addition to the titular substances, the artist employs henna, coffee and hibiscus, supplemented by gold. Dabs of the latter dance across a series of florals on white backdrops, while other compositions include 3-D spirals of gold leaf or white and yellow paint. The juxtaposition of loosely and tightly painted forms complements the contrast between watery, overlapping tints and rock-solid hues. The results are usually delicate, which befits techniques such as the way Behnam blows saffron grains across the surface, letting them fall where they may. As the artist writes, this process yields a permanent “testament” to a fleeting gesture.
Saya Behnam: Saffron & Tea On view through June 25 at Artist’s Proof, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-803-2782. aproof.net.
Nudes, superheroes, language, autobiography, art history and biblical tales are among “The Obsessions of F. Lennox Campello,” as summarized by the title of his show at Artists & Makers 2. Rather than pack lots of these interests within a single frame, the local artist and critic disperses them across more than 50 drawings, prints and mixed-media pieces. The individual works are often spare, with a single small figure isolated on a vast sheet of paper or a shard of broken pottery. The subjects, mostly female, include painter Frida Kahlo and Lilith, Adam’s pre-Eve gal pal (according to the Talmud).
His technique is classical, but he sometimes incorporates a contemporary technology: embedded video. “Portrait of You” features a live feed of the picture’s viewer, and “Cuban by Ancestry, but American by the Grace of God” (seen last year at the American University Museum) chronicles his family history on a video loop. The combination of drawn and electronic images can be gimmicky, notably in a piece that places flickering video on the forehead of (who else?) Frida Kahlo. But a man who nurses so many fixations must commandeer many channels to broadcast them all.
The Obsessions of F. Lennox Campello On view through June 29 at Artists & Makers 2, 12276 Wilkins Ave., Rockville. 240-437-9573. artistsandakersstudios.com.