Massachusetts woodblock printmaker Annie Bissett uses much the same technique as 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai, so it’s fitting that one of her prints is called “The Great Wave,” the title often applied to Hokusai’s best-known work.
But in Bissett’s woodblock, on display in “Past. Present. Now!” at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, the surge that dominates the composition is derived from a dollar bill’s ornamental border. Rampaging metaphorically off the money, the filigree threatens to swamp a canoeist.
The print is one in a series, “Loaded,” that considers the power of cash and the pain of its lack. Bissett lifts the word “God” from the oft-worshiped currency and transforms the same sort of embellishment that serves as a wave into smoke from a burned-out car.
Also included are pictures that contrast two similar but opposed phrases, such as “filthy rich” and “dirt-poor.” The wealthy one is rendered in the sort of lettering seen on bonds and bills; the needy one in a rough scrawl.
Bissett’s themes include gay history, whether in a portrait of a same-sex male couple who lived in the Plymouth Colony or the autobiographical series “I Was a 20th Century Lesbian.” Her other interests include Colonial-period almanacs and contested contemporary frontiers, such as the ones between the United States and Mexico, and Israeli and Palestinian territory. The border series combines modern, historical and mythical imagery with another venerable form of graphic communication: mapmaking.
Like her Japanese predecessors, Bissett uses water-based pigment that melds into a richly colored whole during multiple applications of various hues. She may employ the technique to mimic ukiyo-e prints explicitly, or to simulate such other processes, such as engraving. The consummate printmaking provides both artistic and historical resonance. Bissett may have a 21st-century sensibility, but centuries of craft and heritage deepen her work.
Past. Present. Now! Watercolor Woodblock Prints by Annie Bissett On view through June 18 at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, 1300 13th St. NW. 202-638-3612. charleskrausereporting.com.
Of the many works in Arlington Arts Center’s “Spring Solos 2016” that involve repurposing or deconstructing, perhaps the most engaging is Adam Hager’s “Tune.” The local artist disassembles clocks, computers and other gizmos, using the pieces to make toy vehicles. But “Tune’s” main component is from a full-size car: It’s a de-greased Chevy engine, to which Hager has attached tuning forks, hammers and a crank, so that gallery visitors can turn the handle and produce music. The punningly titled device is not quite a well-tempered clavier, but sort of an automotive gamelan.
The music is visual in R. John Mertens’s “Paradoxical Acousmetre,” an installation of hanging audio tape in a darkened space. Amy Ritter gives 3-D form to large black-and-white prints of rooms, furnishings and mobile homes, creating places that feel almost real, yet tentative. Lauren Rice uses construction materials such as wood, foam, plaster and copper pipe to make objects from a fictional archaeological excavation site. Maggie Gourlay employs drywall, paint and mirrors in her autopsies of the typical contemporary home; the mirrors are placed on the floor to suggest — with the added nudge of recorded dripping sounds — puddles in a structure that’s being slowly destroyed by water.
Also at the center is Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s “As You Spread, I Am Erased.” In the Iran-born local artist’s paintings, designs that recall traditional Persian tiles and manuscripts decay and disappear into modernist abstractions. The reference may be to corrosive politics — there’s a shadow above a map of the Middle East in “Ethereal Transgression” — or to the loss of personal memory. Although separate from “Spring Solos,” Ilchi’s works have an affinity with many in that selection, especially Gourlay’s. They seek truth below the surface, and in the processes of change.
Spring Solos 2016 On view through June 12 at Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-6800. arlingtonartscenter.org.
Her art doesn’t flow, Judith Seligson insists. She has “A Gap Frame of Mind,” which is the title of her exhibition at the Athenaeum and the subject of her upcoming book, which surveys science, psychology and literature, as well as visual art. In the Alexandria-based artist’s geometric abstractions, the existential breach between things — whether neurons or people — is represented by boundaries that divide blocks of color.
The paintings’ titles invoke artists Richard Diebenkorn and Piet Mondrian, but Seligson’s style is more reminiscent of those of Josef Albers and Frank Stella. Save for one text-based piece, all these pictures array hard-edged forms in mainly (but not exclusively) muted colors. Most divide rectangular fields into Euclidian subsidiary shapes, but some burst from the format with multiple overlapping, off-kilter panels.
There’s drama in the large gestures, such as the way a bright hue jumps from a panel to the adjacent one, but also in such almost-hidden features as a tiny, lime-green square nestled off-center in a large expanse. If Seligson’s approach is crisply mathematical, it doesn’t banish play.
Judith Seligson: A Gap Frame of Mind On view through June 12 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. 703-548-0035. nvfaa.org.
In the age of cute YouTube critters, Katie Pumphrey depicts animals that are muscular, kinetic and competitive. The bison, wolves and fish in “Heavyweight,” the D.C. artist’s show at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, appear as if alive in the real world, not putting on a show for a videocam. Whether painted loosely in oils or drawn more precisely in charcoal bathed with acrylic washes, Pumphrey’s subjects defend their territory.
Their stance is unapologetically autobiographical. Raised in rural Maryland, Pumphrey is the youngest of four children. She grew up to be a long-distance swimmer, and last summer she traversed the English Channel. The artist doesn’t put herself, or any other human, into her blue-heavy ocean scenes, which are the show’s most abstract pictures. But she’s there in the jabs of paint that suggest fish in frenzied motion, and swirl dynamically around on a potential food source. What Pumphrey portrays is nothing less than the survival instinct.
Katie Pumphrey: Heavyweight On view through Saturday at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. callowayart.com.