Michele Colburn shoots guns. She also knits, and for the same reason — to call into question the mechanisms of violence. “War Paths: The Art of Michele Colburn” conflates images of barbarism and innocence, using gunpowder and teddy bears, trip wire and camouflage-pattern diapers.
The centerpiece of the show at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art is Colburn’s ongoing “Trip Wire Project 2014-2015,” assembled from thin cables used to activate land mines during the Vietnam War. The somber mantle is draped on the gallery wall along with large wooden knitting needles; it contains one stitch for each American military death or wounding and for every acknowledged civilian death in Iraq and Afghanistan since U.S. troops invaded in 2001 and 2003, respectively. The D.C. artist has been known to work on the piece outside the homes of prominent architects of those inconclusive forays.
Colburn’s gunpowder landscape drawings mix the explosive with ink, pencil and charcoal on paper, resulting in rough, craggy textures that suggest wartime trenches. Some of these works are finished on the firing range, where the artist punctuates them with bullet holes. Other drawing-paintings, done in a more conventional mix of media, juxtapose hearts and hand grenades.
Somewhat more cuddly are stuffed toy bears, decorated with pictures of helicopters and machine guns, or with military medals for eyes. These war toys, it might be said, are as American as apple pie.
War Paths: The Art of Michele Colburn On view through Aug. 2 at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, 1300 13th St. NW. 202-638-3612. www.charleskrausereporting.com.
Although she is a Bronx-bred urbanite, Marie Ringwald has an affinity for simple, rustic structures: sheds, barns, Quonset huts and the like. The range of uses she can make of these architectural archetypes is on display in “Adding + Subtracting” at Artists & Makers. It includes sculpture, collage and painting, much brightly colored but some of the most appealing work in elegant shades of gray.
Ringwald, a longtime Washingtonian, is often included in local group shows. Her art fits many contexts, yet without ever sacrificing its essential concerns. This selection includes small, free-standing models of Quonset huts made of painted wood and various metals, whose character gives the little pieces real-world heft. Most of the other sculptures are wall mounted and imply buildings or their parts, such as windows and doors. Yet in her “Thinking About” series, Ringwald uses the same basic vocabulary to pay tribute to such notable 20th-century female artists as Lee Krasner and Louise Nevelson.
She also varies her formula with the vibrant “Mardi Gras” pieces, abstractions that suggest the complexity of urban fabric rather than evoke individual edifices. More austere but just as striking are the “Grey Shed paintings,” whose compositions are intriguingly off-center and whose grays are heathered and silvery. As with the other monochromatic works, the elemental forms are stark yet sensual.
Marie Ringwald: Adding + Subtracting On view through July 30 at Artists & Makers, 11810 Parklawn Dr., Suite 208, Rockville, Md. 240-437-9573. www.artistsandmakersstudios.com.
“You are important to us,” recites the recorded message from the intercom attached to a white wall. The sentiment is insincere, of course, as is every artifact in Lisa Dillin’s “I’m looking for you . . .” at Hamiltonian Gallery. The Baltimore artist presents simulated fragments of suburban life, hinting at the larger simulation practiced by the developers of instant “communities.”
The most complicated piece is a working fountain, framed by polished stone to signify Euro-classical refinement, that burbles blandly in the center of the gallery. It looks like something ripped, complete with plumbing, from a shopping mall. Also included are a slab of composite flooring, mounted on the wall, and a 13-foot-wide print of a golf-course-like vista, partially obscured by a curtain. The grassy emptiness that’s visible is tidily scenic but suggests a sort of upscale quarantine. So does the Muzak-like ditty that plays after that intercom message: “All by Myself.”
While Dillin excavates the ’burbs, Allison Spence considers science fiction movies, horror comics and how they depict the human body. Her “More human than I am, alone,” also at Hamiltonian, takes its title from a line in David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.” To illustrate that bit of dialogue, the D.C. artist made some paintings that are crumpled and then varnished into permanently clenched disarray. Two unrumpled canvases recall Francis Bacon’s butcher-shop treatment of the human form, combined with the ever-manipulable quality of digital imagery. Whether stretched flat or randomly jumbled, Spence’s pictures are mutable and implicitly violent.
Lisa Dillin: I’m looking for you . . . and Allison Spence: More human than I am, alone On view through Aug. 1 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101. 202-332-1116. www.hamiltoniangallery.com.
It’s a selection of landscapes, but Steve Alderton’s show at Touchstone Gallery is hardly in the French en plein air tradition. The show’s title, “Memoryscapes — Blurry Lines II,” specifies that the D.C. painter’s trees, fields and skies are recollected, not observed. While the compositions may be based on scenery from Alderton’s native Wisconsin, their shades of lime, lilac and grape come not from nature, but from the ice cream parlor. Soft-edged purple rectangles stand on sticks, representing trees but resembling popsicles.
The vivid hues command the eye, and the forms are no less intriguing. Alderton seems to be working with rollers and large brushes, which yield both thick swathes of color and airy, partially translucent blocks of pigment. The approach is impressionistic, but the often single-hue shapes combine into a patchwork that’s closer to Mondrian than Monet. Although recognizable as nature scenes, Alderton’s remembrances nearly blur into formalist abstractions.
Steve Alderton: Memoryscapes: Blurry Lines II On view through Aug. 2 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. 202-347-2787. www.touchstonegallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.