It’s no coincidence that 15 of the 19 artists convened in “Personal Patterns” are women. In her essay about the King Street Gallery show, curator Claudia Rousseau notes that patterned arts and crafts have long been associated with women and that the feminist Pattern and Decoration movement, begun in the early 1970s, explicitly sought to elevate the traditionally feminine decorative arts. It was, in large part, a reaction to the metaphysical macho of Abstract Expressionism and its successors.
Such epoch-making movements no longer define the art world, and personal identity is widely accepted as a legitimate basis for expression. Nature (and thus alarm about environmental despoilment) has returned as a popular artistic subject. Also, art just isn’t as resolutely virile now as in the days when Manhattan’s bad-boy painters swaggered to the Cedar Tavern. As if to prove that, the artist in this show who works primarily with brilliantly hued artificial flowers is Matt Hollis, one of the four guys.
Blossoms are juxtaposed by boxes and bars of color in Ellen Hill’s work, which is not abashed to resemble wallpaper. Biological forms also appear in the sculptures of Jessica Beels and Ellyn Weiss, both of whom look to the sea, and the densely detailed paintings of Pat Goslee, who abstracts both vegetal and fleshy contours. Michele Banks depicts the body indirectly through the mechanical pulses of EEG and EKG tests. Sondra Arkin’s wax-and-ink drawings are spidery webs that could represent life as seen with the unaided eye, or though a microscope.
The artists’ ideas of the personal often involve race, ethnicity or culture. Santiago-bred Joan Belmar’s 3-D collages are inspired by the Selknam people massacred by the Europeans who settled southern Chile and Argentina. Amber Robles-Gordon uses commercial paint chips as the basis for a collage that considers the state of African American society. Shanthi Chandrasekar arranges women’s faces into designs rooted in the traditions of southern India. Carien Quiroga uses flowers and seed pods to symbolize fertility in found-object collages whose motifs celebrate her native South Africa.
The patterns in Helen Zughaib’s art are repeated words or phrases written in a script that’s among the world’s most used, but little known, in the United States. The Lebanon-born artist turns the Arabic words for “home” and “secrets” into visual mantras, sometimes integrated with images of women’s eyes or abaya-clad silhouettes. The words become patterns, and also persons.
Personal Patterns On view through Nov. 25 at King Street Gallery, Montgomery College, 930 King St., Silver Spring; 240-567-5821. cms.montgomerycollege.edu/arts-tpss/exhibitions.
Neon tubes or LEDs illuminate most of the work in Carroll Square Gallery’s “This Is Light,” a show of four East Coast artists, but the most intriguing piece features an old-fashioned slide projector.
In Tommy Bobo’s video, “Umbra,” a circle of blurry light is periodically obscured by or merges with a glowing orb, accompanied by crackling sounds. The device that produces the change gradually becomes discernible and is not exactly high-tech: It’s a gum-chewer who blows and then pops bubbles in front of the light ring.
Pamela Gwaltney contributes a tower whose LEDs cycle through the color wheel. Esther Ruiz contrasts neon semicircles with their wood or concrete supports in such sculptures as “Bifrost II,” named for Norse myth’s rainbow bridge. More eerily effective is Lisa Dillin’s “Window F,” a pale blue rectangle. The “F” in the piece’s title may not be short for F Street, the location of the gallery, but this stark suggestion of a window in darkness does conjure an entire night town of beckoning portals.
This Is Light On view through Nov. 25 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com/exhibitions/carroll-square-gallery/current-exhibitions.
Would it be misleading to call Vonn Sumner’s art “Homeric?” The California artist’s “New Ancient Pictures” features paintings of men he calls “warriors” rendered in a blue-free palette partly inspired by the lack of that color in the language of the “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” But the Morton Fine Art show doesn’t literally portray classical-world combatants. The four warrior pictures are self-portraits of a sort, and feature a man who carries a garbage can and lid as armor and shield, and a broom as his sword. Other paintings have even less connection to heroic legends of the bygone Mediterranean.
Sumner is a representational artist who explores traditional media. These pieces are mostly oils on panels, and a previous Morton show included his temperas. But the artist demonstrates his modernity by working from photos — often of himself — and using large blocks of pure color. He flattens perspective, which suits such paintings as “Pink Theatre,” a depiction of a shallowly articulated building facade. Among the surrealist elements are elaborate masks and, in “Hovering,” a figure who’s prone in midair. The least interesting picture in the series is “Palette 1,” an abstraction that really isn’t one: It’s actually a daubed record of all the reds, grays and blacks that Sumner used to paint this un-blued demimonde.
New Ancient Pictures: Vonn Sumner On view through Nov. 21 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. www.mortonfineart.com.
“My paintings feel very architectural,” writes David Bell of the mixed-media abstractions in “Psychology Behind the Paint.” The artist runs an antique shop in the same block as Susan Calloway Fine Arts, where this show hangs, but he doesn’t emulate the orderly ornamentation of home furnishings. With their simple forms and gray-heavy pigments, the paintings are closer to Brutalism. One of the numbered canvases has a surface so rough and thick that it resembles a decayed sidewalk.
The fields of gray and tan are defined by simple forms, including perfectly centered circles and eccentrically placed pentagons and triangles. If the shapes recall color-field painting, the tones are mostly industrial, offset by the occasional thin red line. Drips and smears suggest Abstract Expressionism, but also raw concrete. Bell writes of his pictures: “I want them to be the bones of the room.” Exactly how well these gray hulks would harmonize with more delicate design elements is a matter of taste, but there’s no denying the paintings’ strength and assurance.
David Bell: Psychology Behind the Paint On view through Nov. 28 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. www.callowayart.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.