The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Portraits, landscapes and dark views

A look at new works in area galleries

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In the Western imagination, Marrakesh is as sunny as a certain Crosby, Stills and Nash song. But Steve Alderton returned from a 2018 trip to that city with a new and darker palette. The stylized countenances of his “Marrakech Portraits” are painted in such midnight colors as purple and black. This is a stylistic transition the D.C. artist didn’t get to complete. The 67-year-old died unexpectedly last August, while planning this Touchstone Gallery show.

Like the landscapes Alderton showed at the gallery in 2015, his recent portraits are partly abstracted and rendered in vivid, unnaturalistic hues. The figures are framed by slabs of strong color, and the faces are often divided into a few blocks or bars of purple, green or brown. Features are sketched with stark black lines, with just glimmers of white at the edges of the eyes to illuminate an inner spark. The flattened, elongated heads, necks and torsos recall Modigliani, while the geometric shapes announce the influence of cubism.

Not all the pictures are finished, which allows insight in Alderton’s approach. One nearly complete canvas is shown with a photo of an earlier version: A crimson jacket vanished, but the same red became the backdrop; yellow flowers moved from a vase to the subject’s print dress. To Alderton, it seems, form was mutable but color was eternal.

Paired with Alderton’s portraits are ones by Dana Brotman that share more than a stylistic link. The local artist, who considers Alderton a mentor, decided to emulate his bold colors in her “Transitional Spaces.” She had previously experimented with painting atop his abandoned canvases and, after his death, began using paint from half-full tubes he left behind.

In these pictures, Brotman positions blue, green or purple faces in front of backgrounds whose colors are equally robust and saturated. Although far from realistic, her pictures have a bit more detail than Alderton’s. Most distinctive are the acrylics on wood whose scratchy contrapuntal brushstrokes convey a sense of action. Within the chunks of static color, these gestures imbue the images with scurrying liveliness.

Steve Alderton: Marrakech Portraits and Brotman: Transitional Spaces Through March 29 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. Currently open by appointment only.

Lavely Miller-Kershman

A very different sort of portraitist, Lavely Miller-Kershman combines photorealism with classical technique to craft paintings of exceptional detail and luminosity. The title of the Baltimore artist’s Foundry Gallery show suggests that her specialty is self-portraiture. But a few other people have infiltrated “Lavely Miller-Kershman Paints Lavely Miller-Kershman.”

Among the artist’s idiosyncrasies is that she uses her fingers to apply the layers of acrylic pigment and gel medium that produce the illusion of substantial depth. She paints on multiple sheets of filmy mulberry paper that she affixes to wood, leaving wrinkles in the finished picture. She also sometimes retains such vestigial elements as the partly painted third eye that lingers eerily in one likeness that is otherwise realistic.

Although she works from photos and film stills, Miller-Kershman rarely includes objects that didn’t exist in Caravaggio’s time. One of the largest nonhuman presences in this selection is an outsized orange. Backdrops are usually lustrous black, and compositions are often split across multiple panels. This layout may recall medieval altar pieces, but not when the subject is a rapper with an inked face. “2Chainz/Lil Wayne Tattoos Album” has an Old Masters vibe, yet is utterly contemporary.

Lavely Miller-Kershman Paints Lavely Miller-Kershman Through March 29 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 8th St. NW. Currently open by appointment only.

Gregory Logan Dunn

The titles of some of Gregory Logan Dunn’s recent pictures evoke the biblical scenes that dominated European painting centuries ago. But there’s no literal religious content in Dunn’s purely abstract works such as “Fall of the Rebel Angels.” The conflicts recounted in the Rockville-based artist’s Lost Origins Gallery show are among the multiple layers of pigment raked across the surface with a large Plexiglas tool that Dunn made, resembling one used by German modernist Gerhard Richter.

The show’s name, “Destiny Manifests,” refers to other sorts of battles, the painter explained during a recent conversation. The allusion to Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century doctrine that justified American expansionism, refers more to Dunn’s state of mind in today’s agitated political climate than to his art. The latter is vigorous and eye-poppingly colorful, with dramatic juxtapositions of red and green or, occasionally, orange and blue.

Dunn lays down seven to eight coats of different colors, whose interplay sometimes elicits additional shades. The strata meld so the order in which they were applied is frequently, though not always, unclear. The pictures are mostly in a almost-square format that’s just a bit taller than wide, and made with horizontal strokes that yield powerful upward swells of color. There are no visible angels in Dunn’s paintings, but their vertical ripples draw the eye heavenward.

Gregory Logan Dunn: Destiny Manifests Through March 29 at Lost Origins Gallery, 3110 Mt. Pleasant St. NW.

Claudia Minicozzi

Some of the landscapes in Claudia Minicozzi’s Arts Club of Washington show are of urban scenes, whether in Italy, France or within walking distance of the venerable club’s townhouse. But natural vistas best suit the loose-limbed style of the D.C. painter, who is very nearly a watercolorist.

Painting on paper with diluted acrylics, the artist captures liquid light in a way that seems to melt objects, whether as permanent as a rocky ridge or as ephemeral as a snow bank. Sunlight can be sly in such Minicozzi vignettes as “Amalfi Coast,” where a shadowed wall faces the viewer while the building’s bright side glimmers almost out of view.

Minicozzi often works from photographs, and sometimes faithfully reproduces a photo’s transient perspective. Yet the resulting pictures don’t seem fixed in time. The charm of them is that they appear about to dissolve into the ether, just like the moments they represent.

Claudia Minicozzi Through March 28 at the Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I St N.W.