Can a painting be both austere and opulent? That’s the tension in the work of Takefumi Hori, currently at Long View Gallery. The show is titled “Gilded,” because the Brooklyn-based Japanese artist employs gold (as well as silver and bronze) leaf. In a few of the works, smears of gold embellish paintings of concentric black circles on mostly white fields. Other canvases are dense with metallic leaf and pigments, suggesting abstract expressionism as refashioned by someone with a Midas touch.
Medieval and Renaissance European paintings often employed gold leaf, usually for crowns, halos or other symbols of majesty and divinity. Gold also is seen in Japanese temples and shrines. Whether Western or Eastern, such touches always are applied tidily. But Hori is no exacting goldsmith. Even when he layers metallic hues smoothly, as in a series of small square paintings bisected into choppy and placid halves, there’s tumult beneath the glistening surface.
Swathes of black sometimes feature in Hori’s paintings, often in undercoats that are largely obscured by the white or gold atop them. But there are no other colors, which is one reason the artist’s work suggests the more spartan compositions of such abstract expressionists as Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell. Hori cites both the energy of New York and his study of calligraphy as influences on his style.
Somehow, though, it all seems to come back to gold. Hori’s paintings may draw on such minimalist precedents as Newman’s “zips,” his term for the vertical lines that punctuated his canvases, and the slashes of black brushwork that propel Sino-Japanese characters to the brink of abstraction. Yet there’s nothing stark about precious metals. Their sheen gives these rough-edged paintings a grandeur that’s intriguing and perplexing.
Takefumi Hori: Gilded On view through Oct. 26 at Long View Gallery, 1234 9th St. NW; 202-232-4788; www.longviewgallery.com.
Circles are also a motif in Joan Belmar’s “Chords,” at Addison/Ripley Fine Arts. Some of these drawing-paintings suggest interstellar charts, with dotted lines that might indicate hypothetical orbits. But their vast expanses also could represent deserts, such as the barrens of northern Chile, the local artist’s homeland. Grids add to the sense that Belmar is charting some sort of territory, although he contrasts the Cartesian elements with watery shapes and three-dimensional effects. Bubbles seem to rise from the picture plane, and painted shadows create the illusion that orbs are spinning above it. Sometimes, as in “3/D #1,” the multiple levels are actual, and not just skillfully simulated.
Working mostly on canvas or paper, Belmar combines acrylic, ink, oil and gouache. That list alone gives a sense of his work’s layered complexity. Yet the compositions and color schemes in “Chords” appear simpler than in Belmar’s earlier work. The pictures are mostly rendered in grays and blacks, accented by hues that are usually muted but occasionally bright. Yellow and orange illuminate “Small Canvas,” while aqua seeps through the complex “Liberto,” at eight-feet high the largest piece. At that scale, the map and the landscape begin to merge.
Joan Belmar: Chords On view through Oct. 25 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-338-5180; www.addisonripleyfineart.com.
The title of Matthew Mann’s Project 4 show, “Associative Fugue,” refers to two meanings of the word “fugue” — a Bach-style musical composition that repeats variations on a theme, and a fugue state, a psychological term for a temporary loss of personal identity. The latter can be called “dissociative,” but the D.C. artist drops the “dis” for a set of oil paintings that clearly flock together. These visions include stage-set landscapes, dreamlike juxtapositions and a variety of waterfowl.
In the manner of such surrealists as Magritte, Mann paints realistically, even classically. Yet the things he depicts don’t quite go together, a disunity he emphasizes by inserting bits of abstract, pixel-like patterns and linking incongruous images with lengths of blue masking tape. The latter are no more real than the grain of plywood backdrops or the birds that play human-like roles in such paintings as “Twilight Burglar.” Everything in these witty and strange pictures is painted, not collaged. That, of course, is another way in which Mann’s work is classical: It conjures cartoon skies and enigmatic ducks just the way painters once did gods and monsters.
Associative Fugue: Works by Matthew Mann On view through Oct. 18 at Project 4 Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, 3rd floor; 202-232-4340; www.project4gallery.com.
The body becomes a tool, and tools stand in for the body, in Tamar Ettun’s multimedia work. The Brooklyn-based Israeli artist’s “My Hands Are the Shape of My Height,” at Transformer, often reduces the human presence to hands or feet. In the gallery’s window, a series of posed rubber gloves freeze the memory of various actions, such as painting and juggling. In a video piece, people become simple machines: A woman’s mouth functions as part of a can opener, and an upside-down man stands on his hands, plastic bottles affixed to his legs, dispensing water to plants beneath him.
The video is titled “It’s Not a Question of Anxiety,” but maybe it is. One of Ettun’s interests is post-traumatic stress disorder, in part as a result of the recent Israel/Gaza conflict. “I want to convey the bodily imprints of trauma by casting clothes and gloves that embody physical gestures,” she writes. Not everyone will glimpse such suffering in Ettun’s work, but her separation of mover and movement is decidedly eerie.
Tamar Ettun: My Hands Are the Shape of My Height On view through Oct. 25 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW; 202-483-1102; www.transformerdc.org.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.