While its influence lingers, the Washington Color School’s heyday was some 50 years ago. Yet two of the five artists represented in “Color Chords: Vibrations of the Washington Color School” have links to that loosely aligned movement. Artist and writer Andrew Hudson knew most of the group’s mainstays, in part because he was this newspaper’s art critic from 1965 to 1967. Barbara Januszkiewicz, who organized the show now at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus, more recently sought the counsel of the late Paul Reed, who encouraged her to try new painting techniques.
As a result, the Arlington artist converted from watercolor on paper to thinned acrylic on canvas. Her vibrant abstractions feature swoops of bright and sometimes grainy pigment and recall the sense of motion in Morris Louis’s work. Where Louis achieved his kinetic quality by pouring paint, Januszkiewicz produces hers with oversized brushes.
Bill Hill moved here in 1981 and met some of the Color School’s artistic progeny. His contributions employ thinned oils and a mostly purple and fuchsia palette to simulate misty depths. His near-opposite is Jeremy Flick, whose color-square paintings are multi-hued, hard-edged and clearly inspired by digital pixels.
There’s more Rauschenberg than Louis in the collage-paintings of Matthew Grimes, which are partly derived from posters the Arlington-based ceramicist acquired while living in Chile. Glue, text, affixed objects, and spray and house paint meet in these large pieces, whose hues have a street-level heat rather than the Washington colorists’ detached cool.
Januszkiewicz, who’s making a documentary about the Color School, has filled several display cases with artifacts from the 1960s D.C. art world. The only vintage paintings in the selection are by Hudson. Two are abstractions made under the tutelage of Kenneth Noland in 1964. The other pair, from the early 1980s, combine his earlier style with sketchy male nudes. One of the show’s treasures is his autobiographical essay, available on the website. It turns out the guy really knows how to write about art.
Color Chords: Vibrations of the Washington Color School Through July 10 at Verizon Gallery, Northern Virginia Community College, 8333 Little River Tpk., Annandale; 703-323-3000; colorchordsdc.wix.com/nova
Can technology bring people closer to nature? That’s one of the questions pondered by “EnterState: Sensing the Natural World,” the five-person show at Washington Project for the Arts. Yet much of this work seems not so much attuned to the natural world as alienated from it.
In a performance piece documented with photos and video, Hope Ginsburg wears scuba gear to sit in the Qatar desert. The area was once underwater, but in this era, the Richmond artist is clearly out of place. That’s intentional, of course. The prospect that a warming planet will become hostile to humanity underlies exhibition curator Raquel de Anda’s vision.
Electrical signals emitted by bacteria yield electronic music in the audio-video piece by Interspecifics Collective, a Mexico City duo. Alex Arzt’s several contributions include two that expose the mimosa pudica — known for its “shy” response to being touched — to human stimulation. The Richmond artist even subjected the innocent plant to a polygraph test.
Although it employs electric lights and recorded sound, Laure Drogoul’s teeter-totter is less high-tech. When two people ride the wooden device, water flows through bottles from one side to the next, mimicking such ecosystems as the Chesapeake watershed. That the Baltimore artist’s piece is forever out of balance is ominously apt.
EnterState: Sensing the Natural World Through July 9 at Washington Project for the Arts, 2124 Eighth St. NW; 202-234-7103; www.wpadc.org
A carpenter as well as an artist, Collins literally built his latest paintings — which are not literally paintings. Most of the pieces in “Laughter,” Collins’s Civilian Art Projects show, feature a block of spray-painted pigment. But these monochromatic rectangles are behind glass that’s covered with window-tint film, which obscures and distorts what’s underneath. The central image almost disappears, or at least becomes incidental to the overall effect.
The D.C.-bred New Yorker uses found and salvaged materials, including the wood he assembles into frames. Collins’s apparent goals are to reclaim and remake, and to exercise control.
Yet the artist is careful not to be too meticulous. The tinted film is applied messily so that it bubbles into haphazard patterns. These offera version of the painterly gestures Collins otherwise avoids. While “Laughter’s” tinted pictures are rigorously calculated, they’re energized by randomness.
Graham Collins: Laughter Through July 9 at Civilian Art Projects, 4718 14th St. NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com
His abstract drawings are not prints, Dormitzer makes a point of noting. That’s because the pieces in “This Ellipsis . . . That Ellipsis . . . These Ellipses . . . Those Ellipses . . . ,” the D.C. artist’s Hill Center show, would have been easier to produce as woodblocks or lithographs. Dormitzer fills boxy shapes with fine-line “scribbling” in a single color, then overlaps another form in a different hue over the first. Sometimes the two paired areas overlay almost exactly, but they can also be largely out of sync.
“Ellipsis” may refer to the rectangular gaps in both layers, which reveal the creamy white paper as if it were sunlight streaming through a window. These portals suggest that the drawings are in a sense architectural, and a few of the earlier ones verge on being illustrative. But the most compelling pictures take their power entirely from color, shape and texture.
Spencer Dormitzer: This Ellipsis . . . That Ellipsis . . . These Ellipses . . . Those Ellipses . . . Through June 26 at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-549-4172; www.HillCenterDC.org