The sculptures in Jon Rajkovich's "Falling Interrupted" are assembled partly of man-made substances, yet the pieces at VisArts at Rockville's Gibbs Street Gallery take their cues from preexisting objects. And because both the artificial and organic materials come mostly from trees, Rajkovich's vividly colored, highly manipulated constructions can be seen as homages to nature. Found wood commands manufactured wood.
This is most evident in the show's centerpiece, "Wishbone." It consists of seven large, linked wooden outlines, each forked like the object for which the whole series is named. Six of the frames are empty, but inside one nestles the branch that determined the shape for all of them. Rather than celebrate nature's prettiness, Rajkovich extols its genius for producing distinctive forms.
Two of the other sculptures include sections of twisting vine, painted unnatural hues and mounted atop backdrops of synthetic-looking planks. (The sculptor's materials include plywood and fiberboard.) A third piece is similar, but the length of wood at its center is made rather than found.
The sculptor, who teaches at George Mason University, likes smooth surfaces, cartoon-bright hues and clean, machine-cut curves. But he also savors natural wood grain and bumpy, unplanned contours. While showcasing his wood-shop skills, Rajkovich submits to a higher authority.
Upstairs in Common Ground Gallery, Jeff Einhorn reveals that he has a big head. But it's getting smaller every second in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Giant Deflating Head."
A ruler on the wall indicates that the Philadelphia artist's massive photographic likeness, printed on ballooning Lycra, started at nine feet. Such now-crisp details as individual hairs and pores will lose their definition as the air goes out of Einhorn's creation. The goal, he says, is to show "the fundamental disorder of things."
Or course, Lycra is more durable than a lot of stuff that decays and dies in this disordered universe. So the head can always get pumped up again, just like any oversize ego.
Jon Rajkovich: Falling Interrupted and Jeff Einhorn: A Portrait of the Artist as a Giant Deflating Head On view through Oct. 8at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200.visartscenter.org.
Because he makes his art by cutting wood or copper with tools, M. Alexander Gray could be considered a sort of builder. But one theme of the printmaker's Art League Gallery show, "Aqueduct: Stone Ruins in Maryland & Virginia," is the process of deconstruction. Built in the 1830s, before railways largely supplanted canals locally, the aqueducts Gray depicts are now picturesque relics.
Before he can document them, Gray has to find them. He surveys Maryland and his native Virginia, exploring such well-known waterways as the C&O Canal, but mostly more obscure ones, including the Hardware River and Fifteenmile Creek. He photographs his discoveries, then returns home to turn the images into engravings and woodcuts.
The engravings are more precise and clearly more time-consuming; the largest prints are all woodcuts. Yet Gray doesn't skimp on detail in any of his classically composed pictures. He painstakingly renders the crumbling edifices and their surroundings, paying close attention to texture, light and shadow. He also includes peaceful interlopers such as deer, turtles and several solitary fisherman. Their presence indicates that the long-abandoned aqueducts still have a purpose: They're havens. So, in a way, are Gray's prints.
M. Alexander Gray: Aqueduct: Stone Ruins in Maryland & Virginia On view through Oct. 1 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-1780. theartleague.org.
A second-generation Italian American inspired by a sojourn in southern Italy, Cianne Fragione makes mixed-media abstractions that seem to contain bits of the old country. The layered, heavily worked surfaces give an archaeological vibe to the pictures in Gallery Neptune & Brown's "Dancing the Tarantella." The predominantly light-colored drawing-paintings suggest walls craggy with centuries of plaster and paint.
The local artist's work also incorporates words, paper shreds and bits of fabric. A series inspired by an older Italian woman who befriended Fragione includes "Blue Dress on the Balcony," in which a scrap of sumptuous color gleams like a patch of azure sky on a gray-skied day. More mythologically, a wisp of lace curls through a picture named for the tale in which Zeus, in the form of a swan, has his way with Leda, a mortal woman.
Fragione was formerly a professional dancer, and the show's title refers to the communal dance in the Calabrian village where she lived for a time. The artist doesn't explicitly represent dancing, but there's motion in the loose gestures drawn with pencil and crayon or incised into pigment.
Cianne Fragione: Dancing the Tarantella On view through Oct. 8 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. galleryneptunebrown.com.
For 15 years, the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District has awarded the Trawick Prize to artists from Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Selected from more than 370 entrants, this year's eight finalists are mostly from the Baltimore area. (There's one Virginian among the Marylanders.) Most of the pieces are mixed-media and 3-D. Among the highlights are photographs by Amy Finkelstein, sculpture by Renée Rendine and the work of Helen Glazer, who does both.
Glazer is showing a photo of Antarctica's Canada glacier and a model of the same site; the two-track approach is interesting, but the picture's hues are more vivid. Rendine's large site-specific sculpture consists primarily of paper plates painted in various flesh-tones. The result is curiously biomorphic and even gives a sense of being alive.
Simpler in dimension yet equally intriguing, Finkelstein's near-abstract photos are shot on film and depict arrangements of ink, light, color and what she terms "various bits of fibers, powders and debris." They suggest decayed structures and damaged bodies and yet are austerely beautiful.
Also included are pieces by Larry Cook (whose theme is "constructs of blackness") and Michele Montalbano (who overlaps dueling styles of wallpaper) that have been seen at other local venues.
The Trawick Prize On view through Sept. 30 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., #E, Bethesda. 301-215-7990. bethesda.org/bethesda/gallery-b.