The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: In ‘Narrative,’ 14 artists have personal tales to tell

Langley Spurlock and L. J. Amon. "Back to Front," (detail), Photos mounted on five wood panels; five sets of five photos; on view at Studio Gallery. (Langley Spurlock and L. J. Amon/Studio Gallery)
Placeholder while article actions load

Every picture tells at least one story in “Narrative,” a Studio Gallery show that illustrates the many ways cameras can spin a tale. The 14 participants practice traditional documentary photography, delve into history or simply use the lens as a sort of mirror.

The self-portraits include Iwan Bagus’s large-format nude, posed ominously with an animal trap. Langley Spurlock (with L.J. Aron) depicts the back of his own head in colorful environments that appear synthetic but are actually artworks in Miami museums. The context is even more electric in Steven Marks’s photo of a moving figure in a blur of red and aqua.

Gail Rebhan’s superimposed-text pictures depict Jewish children who lived in, and fled from, Nazi Germany. Soomin Ham continues to investigate family history with multilevel pictures of a site in Korea, grounded by her grandfather’s 1930s photos. Rania Razek photographs a scarf thrown into the air twice — with very different results — to commemorate two sisters who succumbed to breast cancer.

Gary Anthes offers crisp, evocative scenes from a Navajo reservation. Kim Llerena documents everyday roadside phenomena in the American Southwest, honoring each non-landmark with a plaque. Most intriguing in form is Shaun Schroth’s view from inside a Japanese train, a two-frame composition that at first glance seems to be just one. The juxtaposition may have been serendipitous, but here it looks inevitable.

Narrative: Contemporary Photography and the Art of Storytelling Through Dec. 1 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.

Christopher Baer

The circles at the center of Christopher Baer’s “Shining Invitation” paintings are flawlessly shaped, but they can’t be termed perfect. The rounds are roughly incised into color fields that are loose, jagged and often overlapping. In his Addison/Ripley Fine Art show, Baer pits a fundamental geometric form against spontaneous gestures that recall mid-20th-century abstract expressionists such as Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman.

The circle “hints at the divine,” Baer writes in a statement on the show, which also includes pictures from his “Palisades” series. Yet there’s mercurial humanity in the works of the D.C. artist, whose color sense is lively and unpredictable. Baer layers pastels atop bolder hues so that the lower tier is partly visible, and daubs contrasting shades of paint on the canvases’ sides.

Unlike most of his ab-ex forerunners, Baer employs bright colors and vivid oppositions, often pitting cool blue against warm orange or yellow. What the artist shares with his antecedents is the quest to make abstraction both sensuous and sublime. The eternal circle draws the viewer upward.

Christopher Baer: Shining Invitation Through Dec. 1 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Lavely Miller-Kershman

The depths in Lavely Miller-Kershman’s paintings are both metaphorical and literal. The Baltimore artist gazes directly into the eyes of her subjects, which are derived from photographs (including film stills). The faces are rendered with photorealist accuracy, but the pictures also include free gestures and have a tactile quality.

Miller-Kershman paints mostly with her fingers on multiple plies of mulberry paper, which is thin and nearly transparent. Sometimes, she adds a sheet atop the almost-finished picture, so the paper melds with the pigment, and the fibrous texture becomes a prominent part of the whole. The painted face floats somewhere within multiple strata, appearing both forthright and out of reach.

The pictures are large, often with black backgrounds, and mounted on canvas or wood; half of them are divided across multiple panels. The gaps sometimes split faces in two, adding pictorial drama while suggesting fractured psyches. That the format evokes Renaissance art seems apt. Some of Miller-Kershman’s inspirations are screen shots, but her paintings have an eerie timelessness.

Lavely Miller-Kershman Through Dec. 2 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW.

Sinel & Terrar

Trees provide a strong vertical orientation in the paintings of Ellen Sinel and David Terrar, now showing at the Arts Club of Washington. Sinel’s style is more realistic, although with a speculative element. Terrar’s approach is less naturalistic, partly due to his abundant use of gold leaf.

Whether working from life or memory, Sinel paints with precision. When the image blurs, it’s to simulate a real-world phenomenon, as in two pictures that depict views from moving trains. Yet, the D.C. artist sometimes inserts red, orange or yellow nonrepresentational lines, echoing the directions of the trunks and branches. Sinel doesn’t reduce these landscapes to their geometric elements, but she’s clearly tempted to do so.

The green and brown of Sinel’s warm-weather scenes turn black, white and red-gold in Terrar’s wintry ones. Spaces aren’t wide open in the painter’s exteriors, in which bare black trees crowd each other. White ground implies snow, while sunlight penetrates the thickets as areas of thick gold, sometimes glinting against red leaves. Terrar is a Marylander known for cozy local-color vignettes, but with these pictures he has conjured something primal and strange.

Ellen Sinel & David Terrar Through Dec. 1 at the Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I St. NW.

Werner Drewes

A Bauhaus-educated artist who lived his final years in Reston, Va., Werner Drewes was one of the German emigres who helped spark American abstraction. Yet not all his work was abstract, as evidenced by Gallery B’s “100th Year Anniversary of the Bauhaus: Werner Drewes (1899-1985).” The show includes an impressionist watercolor of a jungle scene in Peru, where the artist lived for a time, and two striking woodcuts of yellow-fleshed female nudes, one of whom is trying on the ideal color contrast: a red stocking.

Stained glass was among the media Drewes studied at the Bauhaus, notes Karen E.D. Seibert, this survey’s curator and Drewes’s granddaughter. The influence of that schooling is evident in the artist’s collages, which resemble arrangements of colored-glass panes. The cut-paper assemblages were sometimes used as models for larger paintings, one of which is shown here alongside its smaller prototype.

Yet the artist and his peers also pondered the future as they stripped down and rebuilt familiar imagery. One machine-inspired woodcut, “The Robot,” suggests that Drewes looked as much to industrial design as to cathedrals.

100th Year Anniversary of the Bauhaus: Werner Drewes (1899-1985) Through Dec. 2 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., No. E, Bethesda.