Some of the pictures in Victor Ekpuk’s “These Moments,” like his earlier ones, feature ideograms derived from Nsibidi, an ancient African writing system. But the most forceful piece in the Morton Fine Art show contains just one symbol: a crosshairs bull’s eye over a faceless man’s heart. The figure in “Still I Rise” is on his knees with his hands up, one in a gesture of surrender, but the other clenched into a fist. The D.C. artist is thinking not of his native Nigeria, but of places such as Ferguson, Mo.
Other pieces were inspired by Ekpuk’s recent four-month residency in the land of his birth, where he was struck by local idioms in which “head” refers to a person’s mind or mood. That resulted in several sculptural paintings, all titled “Head” plus a number, on shaped wood panels. Ekpuk has a strong graphic sense, and snipping his images to their essential outlines gives then even more punch.
In the nearly all-red “Head 2,” Nsibidi characters fill the face and neck, suggesting someone stuffed with thoughts. Yet there’s less text in these artworks than in previous groupings, and it’s sometimes pitted against elementary geometry, such as the horizontal stripes of “Head 7.” Executed mostly in black and red, with deep blue as an occasional counterpoint, these drawings and paintings are strikingly direct. “Still I Rise” is the only one that could double as a protest placard, but all are as immediate as street posters.
Victor Ekpuk: These Moments On view through May 31 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. mortonfineart.com.
Both artists of Adah Rose Gallery’s “In This Moment” are builders of a sort. Christina Tenaglia actually works with construction materials, assembling wall sculptures from pieces of wood, sometimes painted. Anne C. Smith draws shapes, mostly rectilinear, in graphite on black charcoal backgrounds, suggesting architectural blueprints.
That may not be the intent: Smith’s stated inspirations are night, memory and landscape. But the D.C. artist’s spare abstractions do conjure a sense of space. Although earlier works included here are more textured, the recent drawings are all line and tonal contrast. They’re stark, yet suggest invisible expanses.
Tenaglia’s pieces have literal depth, yet emphasize straight lines, whether painted or indicated by wooden edges — or drawn by the shadows the latter cast. The New York artist also contrasts unfinished wood and neutral hues with patches of bright color. Tenaglia’s closest connection to Smith’s work is in drawings that follow the same compositional model as her sculptures. But both artists employ a similar repertoire of minimalist gestures, whether in three dimensions or two.
Anne C. Smith & Christine Tenaglia: In This Moment On view through June 4 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington. 301-922-0162. adahrosegallery.com.
“With the Grain,” the title of J.T. Kirkland’s show at MPA@ChainBridge gallery, refers to his established technique. The Sterling artist is known for staining central areas of plywood sheets with the washes of the same color he uses to paint a hard-edge geometric border that surrounds the area of tinted grain. There are several examples of this format here, but also some effective variations.
A few recent works split the composition across two irregularly shaped planks. These diptychs, severed yet unified, are the same color on both sides and resemble interlocking puzzle pieces. More of a departure are pictures that employ diamonds and rectangles in multiple hues. These also emphasize the grain, but don’t stain it. The unpainted wood is central, and the painted figures its frame. These paintings are one-piece rectangles, some dismembered visually by off-kilter shapes. The most orderly of them, the double-diamond “Subspace” 251 and 262, suggest Frank Stella’s 1960s style. But even these give equal play to plywood and paint, thus foregrounding the backdrop.
J.T. Kirkland: With the Grain On view through May 31 at MPA@ChainBridge, 1446 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. 703-790-1953. mpaart.org.
At Cross MacKenzie Gallery in 2013, Leslie Parke showed realist paintings of ceramics submerged in surf, their surfaces glistening wetly. The work in the Upstate New York artist’s “Particle Wave” is rather different, yet also relies on reflection. Although the blurry, disorienting pictures look like abstract digital collages, they’re actually photos of objects seen through plastic.
Parke began photographing visually ambiguous vignettes as inspirations for painting, and only recently decided to exhibit the originals. They show such ordinary things as rolled-up metal fencing, wrapped in plastic outside a building-supply store. The transparent sheeting traps condensation, whose bubbles further distort the image and give it an underwater feel. Like those submerged dishes, the subjects of these photos have undergone a sea change.
Also at the gallery, and quite compatible with Parke’s photography, is Beth Kaminstein’s earth-toned, nature-evoking stoneware. The trays and bowls are irregular in shape, marked with pebble-like forms and finished with different glazes on the same pieces. The Florida artist titled the two larger trays with the word “leaf,” but they also suggest oyster shells. Shimmery and eccentrically beautiful, her work appears as much found as made.
Leslie Parke: Particle Wave and Beth Kaminstein: Ceramics On view through June 3 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
The title of Lee Arts Center’s show, “Nature’s Grasp,” is open-ended. The work is not. Our environment is under assault in most of these prints, which feature skulls, skeletons, airborne bombers and other foreboding motifs. Joseph Velasquez’s modern-day Atlas supports an Earth on which the U.S. is aflame. In Dylan Goldberger’s vegan vision, animals often eaten by humans instead dine on them. Steven Munoz’s seemingly bucolic vision of bees and flowers is titled “Monsanto Is the Devil.”
There are nearly as many styles as there are artists, but most of the 18 contributors have an affinity for pop art, edgy comics and the sharply incised lines of woodblocks and scratchboards. These can be employed to depict both sickness and healing, as in Jun Lee’s thematically bisected print of a toxic city growing into a tree that flourishes, upside-down, beneath it. According to this juxtaposition, it may still be possible to flip the script.
Nature’s Grasp On view through May 31 at Lee Arts Center, 5722 Lee Hwy., Arlington. 703-228-0560. arlingtonarts.org/venues/lee-arts-center.aspx.