Two series are represented in Maggie Michael’s “Colored Grounds and Perfect Xs,” but they sometimes spill into each other. That’s apt, since spillage is one of the Washington painter’s specialities. Her pigments — including acrylic, enamel, latex, gesso, spray paint and water from the Potomac River — stream, splash and pool. There are a few hard edges in the show at G Fine Art, but only a few.
The idea of the series “Colored Grounds” was to make color-field paintings whose backdrops were in strong hues rather than the neutral canvas typical of the genre. Sometimes this is barely discernible, because so many elements have landed atop the original ground. But two of the strongest pictures are as bold as the concept: “Black Under Blue Before, During and After the Rotation of Horses” is dramatic and ghostly, rendered in shades of night and blood; “Colored Ground Series (Orange): How to Make (Frame) a Black Rainbow” lives up to its wordy title, with black swirls and ceramic-like globs of paint on a hot-orange field.
The “Perfect Xs” are decidedly imperfect, at least as examples of penmanship. The central figures in these vertical paintings are more implied than outlined, loosely brushed in white, gray and blue and barely distinguishing the shape from its surroundings. The loveliest of them, the subtly toned “Perfect X Series: Nailing Tints and Wisps,” features the least legible X.
The muted palette of the “X” paintings continues in “Melting Eyes and Stones ‘More Than the Instant I Want Its Flow,’ ” in which two pearllike orbs do seem to be dissolving. Simpler than the other “Grounds,” if not quite minimal, the picture emphasizes watery, stained pigments over thick textures; it’s a bit like a Washington Color School painting without color. If “Melting” is one of the show’s quietest pieces, that hush gives it power.
Maggie Michael: Colored Grounds and Perfect Xs On view through April 4 at G Fine Art,
4718 14th St. NW. 202-462-1601. www.gfineartdc.com.
In Ben Tolman’s large, phenomenally detailed black-
and-white drawings, the world can appear logical, but its inhabitants are chaos in action. Many of the pictures in “Civilized” depict slums or shantytowns, and even the most orderly scenes in the Flashpoint Gallery show include an irrational human element. “Urban” stacks city life into a prim pile, with apartments atop offices. But the hundreds of workers, residents and passersby have taken casual Friday to an extreme — they’re naked.
The oldest piece here is 2012’s “Suburbs,” inspired by the D.C. artist’s childhood in Wheaton, Md. The houses, modeled on actual ones, are diverse, yet fitted into a unvarying grid; there are no hills, roundabouts or cul de sacs. This inflexible schema breaks down when Tolman moves downtown. There, the right-
angled structures — Tolman has no use for cupolas or bow-fronts — are marred by decay and graffiti, and they’re backdrops for protesters, prostitutes and homeless people. “Ruin” suggests Detroit, while the human mound-
dwelling of “Trash” evokes Cairo.
Given Tolman’s obsessive approach to drawing, it’s only natural that he depicts regimentation. In “Most,” matching men in identical shirts and ties line up on a rooftop, possibly for calisthenics but maybe for mass suicide. The artist’s controlled and mostly realistic style calls attention to the way he represents the recognizable world. But Tolman is also fabulist with an interest in transcendence. In one section of “Now,” people remove their clothes before walking through a wall — into, perhaps, a less Euclidean universe.
Ben Tolman: Civilized On view through March 28 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. 202-315-1305. www.culturaldc.org/visual-arts/flashpoint-gallery.
To mark its 10th anniversary, Gallery Plan B invited dozens of artists to contribute
10-by-10-inch works. As with all such shows, a few participants defied the format, but most followed it. The results fit together well, in part because the gallery has a dependable aesthetic. The work it shows may be loose or precise, abstract or figurative, but it’s always handsome and unapologetically decorative.
The paintings, photos and whatnots are mostly hung in suites of three or four. They’re grouped by theme — animals, fruit, urban vignettes — or by artist. Among the highlights: Patrick Craig’s rough squares of reclaimed, partially melted plastic; Regina Miele’s speed-blurred oil-paint vignettes of scenes along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor; and Bernardo Siles’s crisscross compositions, in which stripes both overlap and decay. The gallery’s artists often show a childlike zest for bright colors, which is evident here. Yet there’s room for Karen Hubacher’s encaustics, which variously position rectangular bars painted in hues that range from light newsprint to medium asphalt. Hubacher’s work may be a little too subdued for this company, but it is sternly beautiful.
Ten by Ten: The Anniversary Show On view through March 22 at Gallery Plan B, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-234-2711. www.galleryplanb.com.
Manal Deeb’s own countenance appears in nearly all of her artwork in “Defaced Yet Alluring,” but it’s hard to distinguish it.
The Palestinian-bred Fairfax artist superimposes photographs, calligraphy and fabric patterns on her face, constructing a visual metaphor for how women’s identities are overlaid with societal expectations and political circumstances. Most of the 18 untitled pieces at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al-Quds are computer-generated collages, but Deeb also is showing five paintings that blend realism and abstraction. Imagery derived from the paintings also is an element in the digital collages, which are intricately layered with forms and textures to suggest the land of her birth: bark, earth, branches. All these and more, Deeb suggests, create her self.
Manal Deeb: Defaced Yet Alluring On view through March 20 at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al-Quds, 2425 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-1958. www.thejerusalemfund.org/gallery.
The title of Sally Levie’s show at Studio Gallery is “Oxygen,” but she doesn’t attempt to depict the colorless gas. Her subject is the O2-emitting tree, sometimes singular but often in lush profusion.
The well-traveled D.C. artist works in various styles and media, devising impressionistic oils, precise charcoals and drippy acrylics. Among the show’s highlights are “Oak, Napa,” a black-and-white drawing, and “Night Forest — Denmark,” in which light shines from behind the dark trunks. The illumination may be natural or man-made, but whatever the source, its glimmering provides a mysterious radiance.
Sally Levie: Oxygen On view through March 28 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. www.studiogallerydc.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.