Like American landscape photographers of earlier eras, Noelle K. Tan likes to hit the road with a camera and a cache of black-and-white film. The pictures that result are not instantaneous and resolutely not digital. They emerge only in the darkroom, which is where the Hyattsville artist’s style detours from those of her predecessors.
The title of Tan’s show at Civilian Art Projects at Studio 1469, “Part II Volume 2,” winkingly refers to its melding of work from two separate series: “An Ongoing Anthology of Abandoned Photographs Part 2” and “Expedition Journals: United States of America, Vol. 2.” The first shows almost nothing; the second tries to display, more or less, everything.
The “abandoned” photos are either over- or underexposed, so most of the image is lost to white or black. Tan further edits while printing, so just a few wispy or ghostly features remain. The detail-rich sepia-tinted “Expedition” photos are suites of multiple exposures that combine several thematically linked scenes, such as the sites of three presidential assassinations, two in Washington and one in Dallas.
The two series “are polar opposites in intent,” Tan said recently. Yet in both she’s open to what isn’t real, can’t be seen or doesn’t actually exist. Tan shoots historical simulations and reenactments as well as sites of vanished buildings, such as the railroad station on the Mall where President Garfield was shot. Those who gaze deeply into the pictures may see a little or a lot, but both series are more about feel than look.
Noelle K. Tan: Part II Volume 2 Through May 2 at Civilian Art Projects at Studio 1469, 1469 Harvard St. NW, rear.
With the title of her Watergate Gallery show, “To Limn the Unseen,” Anamario Hernández promises to do something akin to what Tan’s photos accomplish. Yet Hernández’s calm, precise oil paintings don’t conjure history. Painted from memory rather than life, the pictures capture moments in time, perhaps then but maybe right now.
The Mexico-born local artist combines interior and exterior, still life and landscape. She often depicts spare arrangements of bowls and vases, but sometimes supplements them with a view out a window that reveals a wider world: Trees, mountains and buildings stand as still and quiet as a blue-striped teacup.
The colors are mostly muted, but occasionally a block of hot red or orange disrupts the tans and blues. There’s unusual animation to “Night Tide,” a vertical picture of waves painted on rippling linen. More often, Hernández adds drama via composition, as when she splits a view of an ancient aqueduct across three windows. The unseen is as impeccably posed as the seen.
Anamario Hernández: To Limn the Unseen Through May 4 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW.
New York-based painter Mildor Chevalier also takes inspiration from architecture, but his visions are less placid. The busy semi-realist pictures in “Northward,” at the IDB Staff Association Art Gallery, often depict steel beams and buttresses that float in space. The towering yet wispy edifices resemble bridge and elevated-train scaffolding. They also suggest skyscraper skeletons, somehow ripped whole from buildings and tossed into the sky.
Chevalier grew up in Haiti, and his feverish compositions may reflect his reaction to Manhattan’s density and commotion. One painting conjures urban crowding with dozens of heads that bob in the air like balloons, attached by cords to a single briefcase. More characteristic, though, is a picture in which a solitary man sits on a bridge, the superstructure of which hovers above him, seemingly both solid and vaporous. In this intricately rendered reverie, the dreamer is both beguiled and bereft.
Mildor Chevalier: Northward Through May 3 at the IDB Staff Association Art Gallery, 1300 New York Ave. NW (13th Street entrance).
The architecture is actual and solid, yet appears alarmingly spindly, in the sculpture of Hollis McCracken, who’s showing with Ron Lambert in King St. Gallery’s “House Work.” Both artists employ standard carpentry materials to erect pieces that are not exactly homey.
Lambert dissects and punctures, suggesting the fragility of human domesticity and the biosphere that sustains it. The Pennsylvania artist weaves a rug of plastic bags; partly conceals fleshlike forms under walls of vinyl and wood; and impales the corner of a wooden porch with the image of a tree, printed on an aluminum panel. The parts are joined neatly, yet something is off.
McCracken places thin wooden trellises at the bottom of her top-heavy pieces, warning of their possible collapse. The Baltimore-raised artist’s largest and most intriguing offering is “Isolation,” a maze in the form of an adult-scale toy house. Constructed of blond wood and outfitted with windows, the frame building looks benign and beckoning. But a tour leads only to a growing sense of unease and, finally, a dead end. This model house is a trap.
Ron Lambert and Hollis McCracken: House Work Through May 2 at King St. Gallery, Montgomery College, 930 King St., Silver Spring.
A martial-arts teacher, Terence Nicholson is one of the few D.C. artists who might title a show in both English and Chinese. “Five Elements” (or “Wu Xing”) refers to how various forms of energy (“chi”) materialize at different times and in response to competing forces. In this Off-Rhode Gallery show, the forces are three local artists: Meghan Walsh, Adam Bradley and Nicholson. Their art doesn’t directly respond to one another’s work, but certain motifs overlap.
Bradley’s contributions are two free-standing assemblages, made partly of found objects, atop which sculpted figures appear to dance on metal wires or bars. The implied movement of these suspended creatures, made of aluminum or cotton-pulp paper, echoes the action of Nicholson’s hypnotic videos of shadowy bodies engaged in tai chi.
The bulk of the art is by Walsh, who names her mosaics in several languages, including Gaelic and Chinese. The wall-mounted pieces use found objects both traditional (glass, stone and tile) and otherwise (parts of a computer circuit board). The components are hard yet are forged into compositions whose curves suggest cresting waves and germinating plants. In Walsh’s work, the energies at play are organic and tectonic.
Meghan Walsh, Adam Bradley, Terence Nicholson: Five Elements Through May 4 at Off-Rhode Gallery, Art Enables, 2204 Rhode Island Ave. NE.