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In the galleries: In two exhibitions, three painters put aside their brushes

Shar Coulson’s “Fauna Flora Figure 101,” on view at Artist's Proof. (Shar Coulson/Artist's Proof)

The impromptu brushstroke was so emblematic of abstract expressionism that pop artist Roy Lichtenstein parodied it for decades. But some mid-20th-century abstraction shunned brushes altogether in favor of pouring, dripping and spattering. That such techniques are still fruitful is confirmed by the work of three artists, Greg Minah, Nicole Gunning and Shar Coulson, at two shows a block apart.

Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s “New Material” reflects how Minah and Gunning add water and clay, respectively, to the mix. Minah pours pigment and, while it’s still liquid, spins the canvas to cause gestures that flow and crisscross each other. Sometimes he sprays the surface with water or air, partly removing the paint but leaving ghostly outlines where the edges of the rivulets have dried. These can stand alone or serve as bones to be overpainted with layers of multicolored skin.

The Baltimore artist has undertaken several variations on this strategy. Some of the resulting pictures are pastel and chalky, and others are brighter and more opaque. The most recent work features textures that appear feathery, as though the intricate overlaps were still fluttering. Minah freezes streams of paint, but the sense of motion remains.

Primarily a ceramist, Gunning has previously shown her terra-cotta nude self-portraits. Currently without access to a kiln, the D.C. artist has turned to splashing colored bentonite on canvas. The 3-D clay affixes in patterns that resemble coral reefs, lichen-covered rocks or, as one title has it, a “Kelp Forest.” Although a single-color undercoat holds the entirety together, the colors and clumps are strikingly unpredictable.

The mixed-media paintings of Shar Coulson, whose “Perception vs. Reality” is at Artist’s Proof, are somewhat more traditional. The Chicago artist’s work begins as abstract but comes to include hints of nature and landscape imagery. (Her current series is titled “Fauna Flora Figure.”) Some brushwork is evident amid the strata of wax and acrylic paint, as are lines drawn in charcoal.

Yet Coulson uses tactics akin to Minah’s. She regularly rotates the canvas so as to approach the composition from fresh perspectives. Also, she abrades pigment she has applied, both to yield weathered textures and to open areas for new forays. The completed pictures feel delicate yet physical, combining muted hues and robust gestures. Coulson’s homages to flora and fauna are just as much celebrations of the act of painting.

Greg Minah and Nicole Gunning: New Material Through Nov. 14 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Perception vs. Reality: An Exhibition of Works by Shar Coulson
Through Nov. 25 at Artist’s Proof, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Alvarez Yurcisin, Sherrill Evans & Shellow

Circles and repurposed items are two of the three motifs of “Open System,” Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin’s show at VisArts’ Concourse Gallery. The inspiration for the third component might be explained by a gallery note that reveals the Mexico-born local artist’s current field of study: urban planning. Alvarez Yurcisin often arrays her found-object pieces in grids as tidy as any plotted by Pierre L’Enfant.

Alvarez Yurcisin constructs boxes — she calls them “cages” — with neatly interwoven shiny colored ribbons and black cassette tape. On the floor, four landscape photos define the sides of an empty rectangle. The circular forms of case-less floppy disks are mounted in orderly rows. Other ready-made rounds include a Rolodex, exercise wheels for small animals, and circles of paper and vinyl on which viewers are asked to “write your circular thoughts.”

The work suggests cycles of history, as well as processes of manufacturing. These pieces are, after all, a form of recycling. Many of the things Alvarez Yurcisin employs are technologically obsolete, but she doesn’t merely salvage them. She uses their elemental forms to illustrate a sort of eternal recurrence.

Nearby, at the venue’s Common Ground gallery, Andrea Sherrill Evans addresses a different sort of environmental concern. Her “Invasive” is a series of small, precise drawings of nonnative plants thriving in the Mid-Atlantic. Kudzu, English ivy and others are rendered in silverpoint, a millennia-old technique that transfers lines of real silver to paper. Although the effect is subtle, Sherrill Evans’s pictures depict foliage that’s wildly and even dangerously profuse.

The organic imagery is less literal in Leslie Shellow’s “The Substance of Matter,” downstairs in the Gibbs Street Gallery. Wind and water are represented by watercolor and collage in the work of this artist, who, like Sherrill Evans, teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. The show includes small black-and-white ink paintings on paper in the classical Chinese mode and three larger pieces executed directly on the wall. Shellow also projects video of waves and sea grass over one of her pictures. Whatever the medium, the artist seeks to convey intensity and ephemerality at the same time.

Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin: Open System; Andrea Sherrill Evans: Invasive; Leslie Shellow: The Substance of Matter Through Nov. 18 at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville.

Zoe Charlton

The two vast painting-collages that constitute Zoe Charlton’s “The Migration” tell a compelling personal story. But the form of the G Fine Art show is as interesting as its content.

Originally commissioned by and produced at Artspace San Antonio, both pieces begin as a painting of a nude black woman, representing Charlton’s female ancestors. From the bodies grow profusions of greenery, reminiscent of the Florida homestead owned by the Baltimore artist’s grandmother at a time when few African American women were landholders. Rising from the trees are flocks of cutout birds, which flap all the way to the gallery’s back corner. Some are realistic renderings; others are just outlines snipped from decorative papers.

Birds in flight evoke freedom, and so does the almost unbounded composition. The central part of each artwork is on a rectangle of white paper, but its borders nearly vanish into the white wall, and the collaged elements spill off the sheet and across the room. Charlton’s art bursts past the picture frame until it reaches the room’s corner, where one bird’s head is chopped off to indicate it has reached the border. “The Migration” celebrates fecundity and abandon, but playfully acknowledges that even the grandest visions have boundaries.

Zoe Charlton: The Migration Through Nov. 17 at G Fine Art, 4718 14th St. NW.