For centuries, artists either devoutly emulated or defiantly rejected the work of their predecessors. Contemporary artists such as David X Levine take a subtler approach, gleaning from Old Masters to make work those forerunners would struggle to recognize. Giotto would probably be mystified by "Painting With Pencils," Levine's show at Gallery Neptune and Brown. But it features a set of large drawings based on one of the proto-Renaissance painter's masterpieces, the interior of Padua's Scrovegni Chapel.
Giotto's frescoes are religious in theme, of course. But what Levine takes from them are their colors, especially the powdery blue that makes the vault's ceiling resemble midday sky. The paintings' other major hues are presented as vertical blocks of pure color, while the chapel's architecture is reduced to white and brown bars, crowned with a white triangle.
If the compositions are simple and regular, the colors are deep, dense and exquisitely mottled. The New York artist's technique can be termed "painting" because he uses Prismacolor pencils to apply pigment with small, overlapping and barely discernible strokes. After several months, the wax that binds the color rises to the surface and Levine buffs it off.
What remains is bright, clean and intense, combining minimalism's austerity with pop art's directness. In this post-Renaissance firmament, everything is hard-edged and Euclidean. Yet Levine still conveys the wonder of creation.
David X Levine: Painting With Pencils Through Nov. 18 at Gallery Neptune and Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. neptunefineart.com.
A fine example of William Dunlap's "Southern (ir)Reverence" is the title of his series of mixed-media pictures of Union and Confederate uniforms. He calls them "Brand Loyalty," undercutting any claim that a preference for gray rather than blue is a reasoned position. For many, it's more like favoring Pepsi over Coke, suggests the artist in this playful show at Cross MacKenzie Gallery.
Working on paper rather than canvas, Dunlap depicts the empty suits of the 1860s with accuracy, but also with confident looseness. Dollops of gold leaf represent buttons, and the uniforms and backdrops are personalized with drips, spatters and strokes of crayon and charcoal. The Virginia artist gives a similar treatment to dogs, a saber and two sweeping landscapes dominated by agricultural/industrial buildings. These handsome views exemplify Dunlap's method in this show: epic yet intimate, simultaneously precise and free. Also available is Dunlap's "Short Mean Fiction," a limited-edition book of text and drawings; each copy includes a set of original prints.
William Dunlap: Southern (ir)Reverence Through Nov. 8 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
Vlad Zabavskiy has a studio in Arlington, a job at the National Building Museum, and a fondness for Georgetown and the Shenandoah Valley. Yet his Russian heritage is palpable in every painting in "On the Verge of Bizarre," at the District Architecture Center. Gold leaf and outlined contours evoke Eastern European religious icons, while geometric forms recall Soviet-era avant-gardists such as Kazimar Malevich. (A biographical note reveals that Zabavskiy's grandfather studied with Malevich.)
The show is divided among several categories, including landscapes, portraits and nature studies. All are in a similar style, save for a series of renowned architects, drawn realistically in pencil. There are eye-catching works in each section, usually the more fanciful ones: a butterfly made of blue shards on a gold backdrop, a demonically red-faced "Portrait of a Migraine." Most striking are three abstract but apparently architectural visions, rendered in circles of color on concrete. Suggesting skies, towers and imaginary cities, Zabavskiy demonstrates that his visual whimsies have strong foundations.
On the Verge of Bizarre: Vlad Zabavskiy Through Nov. 17 at the District Architecture Center, 421 Seventh St. NW. 202-347-9403. aiadc.com/vlad2017.
& Elle Friedberg
Webs, nests, leaves and other delicate natural phenomena are the inspiration for much of the art in "Impressions," at WAS Gallery. Claire Winslow's prints are complemented by a wispy drawing she executed on the wall. Some of Elle Friedberg's pieces are printed on paper approximations of women's clothing and hung on lines as if to dry.
Winslow's pictures are gentle, but not so simple as they initially appear. Their lattices of black and dark-gray lines are punctuated by blobs of flowery color, mostly yellow, lime green and medium blue. Sometimes, the interwoven spirals are overlaid with coils in white or light gray. The prints with color are pretty, but the strongest are larger pieces all in shades of gray and black, except for one's smudgy silver circles.
Among Friedberg's motifs are leaflike shapes in autumnal pastels and green and yellow plant forms. These may be printed on rectangular sheets or on shirts and underwear that appear too big for paper dolls but not quite adult-size. The artist also makes circular prints that she clips into segments and partly overlaps. Winslow layers while Friedberg cuts, but both assemble their pictorial elements with great care.
Impressions Through Nov. 18 at WAS Gallery, 5110 Ridgefield Rd., Bethesda. 202-361-5223. wasgallery.com.
Having closed downtown's Flashpoint Gallery, Cultural DC is taking a different approach to real estate. The nonprofit arts group's new exhibition venue, SPACE4, is a mobile gallery in a converted 40-foot shipping container. The structure is now at Yards Park but will be on the move across the city.
The opening attraction, Salvatore Pirrone's "String Room," is meant to be interactive. The local artist covered 20 plaster panels with multicolor strands of yarn and asked visitors to detach a single one and let it fall to the floor. Ripping an artwork apart, line by line, has proved more popular than anticipated. By early this month, nearly all the strings had been pulled.
That makes "String Room" less participatory than intended. Remaining are plaster dust, piles of yarn and torn patterns on the panels. The white-on-white markings can be seen as aleatory wall drawings. But pondering the rough, raw lines is probably not as much as fun as making them.
Salvatore Pirrone: String Room Through Nov. 15 at SPACE4, 301 Water St. SE. culturaldc.org/space-4.