With its meticulous landscapes and neoclassical aesthetic, William Dunlap’s show at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center could have been edited to make the painter appear to be a traditionalist. “Look at It — Think About It” puts homages to Rembrandt alongside pastoral scenes that are dark and solemn enough for a 19th-century gentleman’s club. Yet the style Dunlap calls “hypothetical realism” also has a puckish streak.
Thus the show includes “Art Bomb,” a paint box tricked up with a timer and clay that resembles plastic explosive. Collage-paintings tweak other tools of the artist’s trade, while multi-piece paintings-assemblages recall Robert Rauschenberg’s and Larry Rivers’s visual commentaries on art and history. The critical thinking continues in “Short Mean Stories,” a new book drawn from decades of Dunlap’s journals and sketchbooks.
The Mississippi-bred Dunlap maintains studios in his home state, Florida and Northern Virginia. His Southern heritage is reflected in tastes for rolling hills and hunting dogs, and depictions of everyday rustic violence: a fish with its head cut off, dogs with the remains of a deer carcass. There also are Civil War uniforms, rendered precisely but with a few painterly drips, and a KKK-like hood with bloodlike red streaks. If Dunlap’s hypothetical vistas seem to portray a lost utopia, it’s one that’s far from a peaceable kingdom.
William Dunlap: Look at It — Think About It On view through May 29 at the American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-1300. american.edu/museum.
They don’t feature massive noses or monumental comb-overs, but the drawings in Deb Sokolow’s “Debate Stage Water Bottles” are political cartoons. The Chicago artist renders slightly 3-D schematics of offices, auditoriums and “the McDonald’s on K St.,” decorated with washes of color and brief comments about campaign strategy. She imagines combat fought with “victorious carpet colors” and the “deliberate sabotaging” of the containers mentioned in the G Fine Art show’s title. One candidate displays resolve by refusing to pass food at dinner, vowing that “the media will want me to apologize for this, and I won’t.”
Because Sokolow doesn’t name names or portray faces, the rooms she defines with folded-paper outlines could be anywhere that people — well, mostly men — compete by guile rather than force. These white-collar arenas are timeless, yet somehow this seems to be the right season for the artist’s drollery.
Deb Sokolow: Debate Stage Water Bottles On view through May 21 at G Fine Art, 4718 14th St. NW. 202-462-1601. gfineartdc.com.
The doorways in Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter’s artworks are not entrances; they’re hubs around which the eclectic compositions revolve. The D.C. artist’s “French Doors” comprises 13 collages, each centered on a photograph of an elaborately embellished portal from Paris’s Chateau Rouge area, home to many people of African descent. The pieces feature craggy edges and spontaneous gestures, West African textile patterns and abstract-expressionist swoops of pencil and white paint.
Titles such as “Crossroads at Cameroon” and “Boukman’s Ghost” invoke France’s imperialist history. (Dutty Boukman was a 19th-century revolutionary in French-ruled Haiti.) In a statement, Gibson-Hunter writes that African migration to Europe is a continuation of colonialism. Yet the contrasts in the artist’s assemblages are dynamic without appearing angry. And the freehand gestures that both crown and unify the pictures are arcs of triumph.
Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter: French Doors On view through May 13 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-6291. honfleurgallery.com.
Although her Studio Gallery show is titled “The Usual Sins,” Miriam Keeler hasn’t forgotten that the seven cardinal offenses are traditionally deemed “deadly.” Skeletons appear in most of these paintings, their intimations of mortality juxtaposed with up-to-date sources of temptation, such as a yoga class and an upscale grocery’s bakery department. “Pride” includes selfies, “Anger” the 9/11 attacks, and “Sloth” a man who doesn’t clean up his dog’s droppings.
That last vignette is not the only earthy one in the series. Like a latter-day Pieter Brueghel, Keeler depicts everyday life, complete with body parts and bodily functions that are usually hidden. Yet her palette is not that of a Dutch Renaissance painter. Rather than browns and tans, the artist employs bright, crisp hues — the colors of mass-market advertising and marketing. She also interjects art-history references, from the prehistoric (and definitely earthy) “Venus of Willendorf” to Roy Lichtenstein. As a stylist, Keeler is neither a Brueghel nor a Lichtenstein, but her mix of classical and modern energizes her work.
Micheline Klagsbrun, whose “Blossoms of Loss & Desire” is also at Studio, germinates flowers and trees out of words, including Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and Darwin’s descriptions of the fertilization of orchids. So it’s fitting that her recent work includes text, whether inscribed onto a scroll made of bark, or in smeary lettering that radiates in a pattern akin to those of the colored inks the artist splashes onto vellum. The drawing-paintings might be displayed flat or wrapped partway around a branch in light-catching sculpture that’s both solid and airy. Either way, Klagsbrun’s art expresses something of what she calls “the language of the secret garden.”
Miriam Keeler: The Usual Sins and Micheline Klagsbrun: Blossoms of Loss & Desire On view through May 21 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. studiogallerydc.com .
The three artists in “Persistence of Flora,” at Carroll Square Gallery, demonstrate an affinity for Micheline Klagsbrun’s approach. Their work evokes nature, not always literally, and blends drawing, painting and sculpture.
Pam Rogers’s soft-contoured abstractions are made with plant and soil pigments, as well as ink, pencil and Prussian blue pigment. Rogers also arranges dried vegetation and other materials into assemblages that hang or are wall-mounted. Magnolia Laurie’s paintings suggest mist, clouds and horizons; two of them top wooden trellises, ready to be wrapped in vines.
Leslie Shellow makes spacious drawings, abstract but evocative of both small and large-scale natural forms, on irregularly shaped paper. The bigger one here wraps around a corner and is 20 feet wide — grand enough to qualify as a landscape itself.
Persistence of Flora On view through May 27 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com/exhibitions/carroll-square-gallery/current-exhibitions.