Hsin-Hsi Chen, "Hedrons Series #2," 2018. (Hsin-Hsi Chen/VisArts at Rockville)

How far can a pencil line travel? And how much depth can it convey? In recent years, Hsin-Hsi Chen has extrapolated her small black-and-white drawings into three-dimensional forms, sometimes cloaked in darkness or lighted from within. Now, the Taiwan-bred, Maryland-educated artist’s impressive “Liminal” can rightly claim VisArts’ largest gallery. The means remain austere, but the variety they produce is rich and surprising.

“Liminal” is a contemporary-art buzzword that refers to things that are barely perceptible or in transition. The show is a low-light experience, in which 3-D pieces both cast and exist in shadows. The gloom suits the artworks, which are mostly in white and shades of gray, and adds drama to “Spaceship Project,” a video projection that explicitly turns Chen’s complex polygons into spacecraft and asteroids. Rather than tell a story, the video is interactive; its elements move in response to the people near it.

Chen has previously supplemented her folded-paper constructions with wood. She added gesso, foam and spray paint to make the wall-mounted sculptures in three new series: the protruding “Meta,” the cavernous “Threshold” and the seemingly topographic “Hedrons.” They remain a link to pencil drawing, since they’re cloaked in shiny, lushly layered graphite and charcoal.

The largest works, the two “Liminals,” abandon the wall to perch on the floor or colonize a corner. With triangles as their building blocks, these sculptures grow from the same basic architecture as Chen’s simplest works. Yet they curve and sag, as if they’ve grown from elementary lines on paper into something protoplasmic and even self-generated.

Hsin-Hsi Chen: Liminal Through April 1 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.

Anne C. Smith & Jeff Hensley

Coincidentally, IA&A at Hillyer is showing two artists who also work with geometry, graphite, shadow and near-monochromatic palettes. Anne C. Smith’s “To Bend/To Fold” consists mostly of black-on-black drawings, and Jeff Hensley’s “Indexical/Aura” uses 3-D constructions to yield transient shapes on the white walls.

That Smith’s drawings are architectural, in a way, is demonstrated by the one 3-D piece: a wood-and-Plexiglas structure that reaches eight feet into the air before looping back to the floor. Its shape echoes some of those in the pictures, although the drawn contours are hard to apprehend, because the D.C. artist sketches with pencil atop rectangles of black charcoal.

Because of their color scheme, the drawings register as minimal, yet some are much busier than others. Careful inspection reveals that not all of the gestures are in black; there’s red, for example, in “Peel.” In earlier works, Smith reduced her childhood home to a ghostly outline. Her pencil lines still evoke buildings, but their link to the physical world has become even more elusive.

Hensley, too, layers black atop black, but the Maryland artist’s show also features wall-mounted blocks and bars, some with burnished-graphite surfaces and others gilded. The 3-D pieces are arranged to “draw” shadows or cast golden reflections. These are “auras,” a winking reference to Walter Benjamin’s influential 1935 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

Benjamin, who didn’t live to encounter digital scanners, laser printers and the Internet, posited that original artworks possess an aura that copies can’t duplicate. Hensley’s auras, however, are temporary. They can be dispelled simply by turning off (or up) the overhead lights. Like the straight pencil lines the artist has traced on the walls, the golden glows are intriguing but hardly eternal.

Anne C. Smith: To Bend/To Fold and Jeff Hensley: Indexical/Aura Through April 1 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW. 202-338-0325. athillyer.org.


Jenny Freestone, "Vessel 2, Third State.” (Jenny Freestone/BlackRock Center for the Arts)
Making Our Mark

Spotlighting seven local artists, BlackRock’s “Making Our Mark” would have significant range even if the participants had restricted themselves to prints. Those predominate, but there also are drawings, paintings, sculptures and pieces that dangle — literally — between media. Among Pauline Jakobsberg’s entries are monotypes of clothing that playfully hang on actual wire hangers.

Many of Jakobsberg’s subtle prints involve fabric, clothing and textures. Lee Newman offers an abundance of cows in small-scale prints, drawings and paintings — including some in casein, which is milk protein. Much of Terry Svat’s work is about home, family and ancestry; it includes elegant collographs and 3-D pieces that feature suspended houses and people glimpsed through windows.

Max-Karl Winkler’s woodcuts portray female nudes in strong, simple lines and compositions that can be lightheartedly erotic. The artist also is showing landscapes in various formats, including a pair of views of the same rock outcropping, one pastel and the other woodblock. Ellen Verdon Winkler displays a gentler touch, notably in the exquisite suite of little heads titled simply “Four.”

Equally delicate are the multi-technique prints of Jenny Freestone, who often depicts nature and metamorphosis. In series such as “Vessel” and “Aqua,” starkly lovely renderings of eggs and nests suggest both precariousness and resilience. Margaret Adams Parker’s etchings and woodcuts address similar themes in a bolder style, and with human subjects. Pictures such as “Elder, Angola” are executed in a classic style, yet with contemporary verve.

Making Our Mark Through April 7 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown. 301-528-2260. blackrockcenter.org/gallery.


Beverly Ryan's "Dante's Drones," on view at the Art League Gallery. (Beverly Ryan/Art League Gallery)
Beverly Ryan

Multimedia artist Beverly Ryan is based in Alexandria, far from any countries where military drones are routinely deployed. Yet she has been pondering the flying machines that engage in surveillance and sometimes execution. To represent the devices’ potential ubiquity, she has filled the Art League Gallery with dozens of drones in various configurations. There’s even a stuffed soft-sculpture one that hovers above the others — a huggable eye in the sky.

More ominous are the steel drones, available in small, medium and large, and oil paintings in which the metal birds buzz around such vulnerable figures as babies and naked women. Some pieces incorporate text, and a few include glitter. The most memorable is a charcoal drawing, “Drone Silhouette,” whose dark, elegant simplicity offers a vivid contrast to Ryan’s high-tech nemesis.

Beverly Ryan: Drone Zone On view through March 31 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-1780. theartleague.org.