"The Eternal Feminine draws us upward," concludes Goethe's "Faust," a pronouncement regarded skeptically by some feminists. (Is the only role of women to inspire men?) Yet a three-woman show at the American University Museum claims the phrase. "Radix: The Eternal Feminine" reflects a mythic figure who is "both dark and light, mystery and revelation," writes curator Claudia Rousseau.
These local artists, Cianne Fragione, Pat Goslee and Anne Marchand, are primarily abstractionists. (Goslee is married to Washington Post reporter Michael O'Sullivan.) There are hints of representation in their work, but nary a virgin, goddess or root (which is what "radix" means in Latin). Fragione's collage-drawing-paintings include diaphanous garments and clay-like hues that evoke southern Italy, where she once lived. Goslee's pinks, reds and biomorphic forms suggest the body, although not necessarily a female one. Although Marchand titles one painting "Black Madonna," her swirling, mixed-media pictures draw more from recent telescope images of space than from pre-modern notions of the heavens.
Fragione's contributions, which include two 3-D assemblages held together with plaster, distill the ambiance of timeworn European locales. Yet their sensibility is personal and contemporary.
Such Goslee canvases as "Confluence," intricate and involving, are among the best she's shown in recent years. The use of stenciled patterns recalls fabric design and other domestic crafts, but that folksy quality is countered by the visceral elements.
Marchand's style is the closest to that of another local painter, Maggie Michael, who happens to be included in "The Trawick Prize," a group show elsewhere in the museum. Both artists attempt to convey fluidity, whether of water, thought or interstellar gas clouds. The flux of these things is indeed eternal. Whether it's particularly feminine is up to the individual viewer.
Radix: The Eternal Feminine Through Dec. 17 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-1300. american.edu/museum.
Makeup, fabric and the nude represent the traditionally and ironically female in the work of the seven women in "Fall Solos" at the Arlington Arts Center. But these artists, all based in or linked to the Mid-Atlantic region, also employ rocks, gas cans and (of course) video equipment.
Nature imagery is tweaked and twisted. Jen Noone tints stones with cosmetic bronzer and positions them in Zen-garden arrays. The flowers in Anna Kell's installation are printed on scraps of weathered upholstery; they frame a cozy fire that burns, on video, inside a vintage wood TV cabinet. In a darkened room designed by Mary Baum, a video moon is projected on a small pool of water as whale calls sound.
Atsuko Chirikjian's sculptural paintings resemble plants, but they actually document a process by which dyes pass through yarns and stain large sheets of rice paper. Iran-born Mojdeh Rezaeipour incorporates dried flowers and black-and-white photos of naked partial bodies into semi-autobiographical collages; these are mounted on wood panels burned with decorative motifs that recall Persian manuscripts.
Julie Willis's entwined red-plastic gas cans are a love object of sorts — "a closed system of mutual support," says a gallery note — flanked by phrases such as "utter despair." Catherine Day's photos of cemeteries are printed on multilayered silks and antique linens that flutter gently, as if ruffled by ghosts. Tending to the past is, very often, women's work.
Fall Solos Through Dec. 16 at Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-6800. arlingtonartscenter.org.
Pretty, genteel and increasingly venerable, the paintings of 20th-century D.C. colorists are now enjoying a commercial revival. Bethesda Fine Art, which specializes in them, offers some fine examples in "Washington Color School: 50 Years Later." The pieces date from the early 1960s to just a few years ago, and include a characteristically pulsating Gene Davis thick-stripe composition and a silvery, multilayered Sam Gilliam assemblage.
Among the most intriguing pictures are ones that harmonize hard edges and watery pigments. Howard Mehring achieved that effect for "Double" by painting canvases in a single mottled color, then cutting and pasting pieces of several of them into a geometric arrangement. Jacob Kainen's "Loomings III" arranges circles and triangles that are clearly defined yet soft around the edges, a contrast echoed by the juxtaposition of industrial gray and flowery pink. The structure is even slipperier in James Hilleary's "Wisteria III," in which a jagged, pinkish-white ribbon splits a blue-green field.
Two Paul Reed paintings, made just a year apart in 1964-65, take different approaches. The larger one, "#5A," is similar to the Kainen canvas but with brighter hues and sharper boundaries. The smaller and slightly earlier "#14," unusually, arrays four sharp red squares atop spongy green clouds on a blue background. The contrary colors and shifting focal points give this flat, colorful plane a sense of exceptional depth.
Washington Color School: 50 Years Later Through Dec. 15 at Bethesda Fine Art, 4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. 240-800-3628. bethesdafineart.com.
The items depicted in Washington Studio School's "The Secret Life of Things" may not actually have covert existences, but some carry mysterious import. The title object in Jim Fitzsimmons's "Coffee Maker #1," for example, stands amid such enigmatic cohorts as a mannequin's disembodied arm and hand. The vignette is surreal, but gently so.
The still lifes made by these 10 artists vary in subject, of course, as well as style and emphasis. Some are nearly photorealist, while others are more impressionistic. The play of light can be as central as the actual subjects, as in Carlton Fletcher's shadowy study of a pitcher and vase or Marie Riccio's amber-flooded scene of arranged flowers and branches.
The things reflect the people who use them as well as the ones who portray them. Realist Erin Raedecke playfully renders an abstract canvas that someone — a disappointed artist, surely — has defaced with red X's. In Maggie Siner's slightly cubist paintings, silky bits of female apparel nestle or drape pieces of furniture, representing both an absent person and recent sensual activity. But she uses a similar style to render radicchio, demonstrating that the technique can be just as voluptuous as the object.
The Secret Life of Things Through Dec. 16 at Washington Studio School, 2129 S St. NW. 202-234-3030. washingtonstudioschool.org.