Wood in its many forms — including paper and even sawdust — is where artist Foon Sham begins and ends. The Macau-born Virginian interlaces slats and blocks to make sculptures that evoke baskets and vases, hives and anthills — even the trees from which the material derives. Sham can work on a massive scale, as in his four woven-wood cylinders installed outdoors near 19th and L streets NW. Yet he also builds, and draws, things that fit inside Gallery Neptune & Brown, host to his exhibition “Exuberant Journey.”
The show revolves around its largest piece, “Iron Wrap,” which resembles the base of a large, hollow tree trunk. It’s mostly lumber, but topped with a cast-iron piece, one of three forged objects here. The others are a circular bronze and an iron spiral whose ragged edges contrast the sleekness of Sham’s woodwork.
Another unexpected element is the paint he added, and then largely subtracted, from several medium-size wooden constructions. These curving pieces, which variously suggest a ship, a funnel and a basin, are mostly blond, but with lingering patches of bright color. Turning wood into art is, like the contours of these sculptures, a circular process.
There are hotter hues in Sham’s drawings, which are all potential sculptures yet entirely satisfying on their own. Sham sketches possibilities — including an unsolicited proposal to wrap a kiln-like edifice around the fountain in the Hirshhorn Museum courtyard — in pastels and diluted yet vivid acrylic washes. Craftsmanship and texture are central to Sham’s art, but his ideas can stand on their own.
Foon Sham: Exuberant Journey On view through May 1 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. galleryneptunebrown.com .
Otis Street Arts Project, a converted warehouse just over the D.C. line in Maryland, provides artist studios, stages exhibitions, and hosts critiques by local arts writers and curators. “The Critiqued” displays one entry each by 13 survivors of those events, and the selection is diverse in both media and style.
Among the most striking items are two that are, in the broad sense, autobiographical. Katie Pumphrey’s vigorous, near-abstract painting of fish competing for food hints at her own underwater striving: The Baltimore artist is a long-distance swimmer who last year stroked across the English Channel. Jacqui Crocetta’s leathery wall sculpture resembles a seed pod, symbolizing resilience, creativity and a sort of rebirth.
The roughness of Crocetta’s piece complements Steven Durow’s hanging glass sculpture, an example of seemingly timeworn “scavo” (from the Italian for “excavation”). With its constricted shape and deliberately unpretty patina, this dark gray-blue object plays against the customary idea of glass as light and bright, and also conveys a sense of struggle. It might be called battered but unbowed.
The Critiqued On view through April 30 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier, Md. 202-550-4634. otisstreetarts.org.
A shaper of the ephemeral, Rockne Krebs pioneered the use of lasers to etch sculptural forms in light. Of the more than 40 public pieces the D.C. artist installed before his death in 2011, only four are now in operation. Some may be restored, but they’re innately harder to preserve than works such as “The Smoke Drawings,” which Krebs made by passing a candle close to paper. Eighteen of these untitled pictures, all from 1973, are now at Hemphill Fine Arts.
Patterns in gray-brown soot dominate a few of the compositions, but all of the works also include spray-painted hues. Sometimes, the preserved fumes appear merely to shadow the pigment, mostly in yellows, oranges and reds. Blue also features in the largest and busiest of the drawings, suggesting an abstract-expressionist canvas. It’s the simplest ones, however, that give the strongest sense of the process. They’re most evocative of Krebs’s larger project: to make something lasting out of the most transient materials.
Rockne Krebs: The Smoke Drawings On view through April 30 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com.
The intriguing idea behind “Manhua + Manga” is to contrast Chinese and Japanese comics from the 1930s, a decade when the two countries were partly at war. The University of Maryland Art Gallery exhibition takes its name from the respective Chinese and Japanese pronunciations of the same phrase, which can be translated as “whimsical pictures.” (The term arose in Japan but is written in Chinese characters.) The selection places Chinese artists’ exhortations to battle near tales of sort-of-liberated women in a Shanghai that was controlled by Japan but hadn’t yet experienced combat. One Japanese cartoonist actually drew for a Chinese publication in Shanghai so as to evade his country’s wartime censors.
Organized by Maryland doctoral candidate Madeline Gent, the show draws from several collections, including the university’s holdings of material gathered by historian Gordon Prange during the U.S. occupation of Japan. Some pieces are displayed on tables cut into the shape of Japan or the Chinese coast. Yet the overall theme is not as sharply defined as those jig-sawed contours. Included are “Felix the Cat” strips in Japanese, latter-day reprints of Hokusai woodcuts, and animated 1980s episodes of “Astro Boy” (“Mighty Atom” in the robot’s native language). These are all linked to Japan’s comics tradition yet have little specifically to do with the period in question. That’s why “Manhua + Manga” will probably interest manga fans more than students of the Sino-Japanese War.
Manhua + Manga On view through April 30 at the Art Gallery, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building at the University of Maryland, College Park. 301-405-1474. artgallery.umd.edu.
Although her subject is nature, Rosemary Luckett’s collages are constructed mostly of manmade stuff. “Earth House,” the Virginia artist’s show at Touchstone Gallery, combines sheet music, gift wrap, postage stamps, ransom-note text and more, all neatly assembled inside old battered frames. The cut-and-paste mini-ecosystems are inspired by American Indian religious and folk art, and accompanied by Luckett’s poems. Every being, she writes, “is but a mask of the Great Face Behind.”
Luckett has shown more polemical works in the past, but this time she employs a more playful touch. Her “Earth Boats,” Noah-less arks filled with assorted creatures, float on fanciful seas. Humans sometimes gently meld with nature: A woman’s head is crowned with mushrooms, and a pair of lungs is superimposed over trees and leaves. If the implication of the latter is ominous, the juxtaposition is lighthearted.
Rosemary Luckett: Earth House On view through May 1 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. 202-347-2787. touchstonegallery.com.