When he retired from the University of Richmond in 2013, artist, art historian and ethnomusicologist Stephen Addiss was honored with an exhibition of his work. The catalogue included tributes from friends and colleagues, including this rewrite of Basho’s most famous haiku:
An old pond —
Steve jumps in
A splash of possibilities
That update, with Addiss taking the place of the frog, may be more irreverent than anything the artist himself ever ventured. His calligraphy, ceramics and ink paintings, on display in “Thirty Years of Discoveries” at Robert Brown Gallery, are highly traditional, although not without personal touches. Long after the era of Chinese and Japanese scholar-artists, Addiss is pursuing their ideals of simplicity, spontaneity and the beauty of imperfection.
This selection, whose earliest work is from 1970, ranges from landscapes to sake cups. Many of the pieces are calligraphic, rendered in the Chinese characters also used in Japanese. Addiss sometimes employs a language of the Western barbarians — English — notably in a sketch of a frog inspired by that Basho haiku. But more often, he freely renders just a character or two, as in “Mumon (No Gate),” the title of a 13th-century collection of Zen koans.
Addiss’s approach is an intriguing blend of hubris and humility. He inserts himself into venerable styles, but with utmost respect. The artist treats inked paper and kiln-fired clay as fundamentally akin, expressing the Asian paradigm of the essential unity of diverse things. Or — as he encapsulates that idea in a few loosely sketched (English) words — “A thousand rivers, one moon.”
Thirty Years of Discoveries: Painting, Calligraphy and Ceramics by Stephen Addiss On view through April 18 at Robert Brown Gallery, 1662 33rd St. NW. 202-338-0353. www.robertbrowngallery.com.
“1992 Forward,” Joel D’Orazio’s 23-year retrospective at VisArts, is divided between painting and sculpture. The former are often bold in hue but soft-textured, with shapes that seem to flow or blur. The latter, which make witty use of found objects, are hard-edged and sometimes porcupine-like. Four spiky chairs look decidedly unsittable, and one piece suggests a medieval weapon, although it’s actually just a silver-painted bowling ball festooned with screws and coat hooks.
Painting them a single color is one way the Bethesda artist makes his metal assemblages hold together. Rendered red-bronze, four metal-part combines become “Cityscape Copper Block,” illustrating the idea of the metropolis as a machine. Another adhesive, both conceptual and literal, is silicone sealant, which D’Orazio applies liberally and playfully. “Teletube” is an old cathode ray tube enveloped in seemingly wriggling ribbons of white sealant.
Most of these useless contraptions look weighty, but “Wall Urchin” clusters multicolored zip ties into an airier structure. Plastic strands and other objects also protrude from some of the pictures, which resist flatness. Dividing D’Orazio’s work between painting and sculpture is actually a bit tricky.
Joel D’Orazio: 1992 Forward On view through April 12 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. www.visartscenter.org.
A quick tour of southwest China’s many ethnic minorities, Colette Fu’s “Land of Deities” would be notable just for its vivid scenes. But the Chinese American artist turns color photographs into pop-up tableaux, making her Spagnuolo Gallery show all the more graphic. A feast beckons the viewer in “Dai Food”; rock formations thrust upward in “Ashima”; and women parade in ornate hats in “Yi Costume Festival Book.” Each book, handmade and elaborately engineered, contains a single scene.
The New Jersey-born Fu is of partial Yi descent and has spent much time in Yunnan Province, discovering and documenting traditions threatened by modernization. The pop-up format captures some of the atmosphere of rituals and celebrations, and also befits the area’s writing traditions. Several of the books display characters chiseled into rock, and one includes several paper renditions of wooden writing sticks. Fu has found a new medium to continue recording a long history.
Colette Fu: Land of Deities: Pop-up Photos of Southwest China On view through April 12 at Spagnuolo Gallery, Georgetown University, 1221 36th St. NW. 202-687-9206. art.georgetown.edu/galleries.
Welcome to the toy house. Randall Lear’s “Ruminate My Rainbow Trees” includes a picture based on the “duck duck goose” game — a painting framed by a parade of sculpted wooden duckies and a motorized box that can be piloted by remote control across four striped panels on the floor. Lear, a Pennsylvanian and recent American University graduate, has even painted a section of Adah Rose Gallery’s wall with clouds, as one might see in a nursery. Rather than surround a crib, though, the simulated sky is the backdrop for an array of tiny abstract canvases.
Lear includes representational elements, sometimes depicting homes or interiors. More often, though, the artist emphasizes the architecture of his paintings themselves. He splits images across paired but off-kilter panels, or between a rectangular plane and an eccentrically shaped addendum. In “Pink Windows,” pink-outlined portals cast a rosy glow on the wall behind them. Color and play are important to Lear, but so are the mechanics of illusion.
Randall Lear: Ruminate My Rainbow Trees On view through April 12 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington. 301-922-0162. www.adahrosegallery.com.
Two words are missing from the title of Olly Olly Art’s “Cut/Tear” — “reassemble” and, well, “word.” The artists in this show rend their materials in order to stitch them together in new ways, and they often embroider them with text. Poet-collagist Eric Pankey matches old-timey illustrations to phrases or appellations — “Wild Oats,” “El Diablo” — on small wooden panels, always in a palette of yellow and gray. Mojdeh Rezaeipour works in a similar mode, using such 3-D ingredients as twigs, wax and dried flowers and often titling the collages after lines of verse. Most of these also are mounted on wood, but a few use vinyl LPs as their foundations.
Carolyn Becker and Amy Hughes Braden are showing both actual collages as well as paintings that give the sense of being constructed from available parts. Each also presents a triptych, another way of severing an image. Becker draws from fashion advertising, but her “Hiatus” arrays jewelry and a set of pink lips to mostly abstract effect. In Braden’s largest piece, the neon-red phrase “Better ways of doing things” is scrawled above a faceless figure. Rather than seek a clearly better way, however, these artists hitch words and pictures in an impromptu manner that suggests abundant other possible combinations.
Cut/Tear On view through April 11 at Olly Olly Art, 10417 Main St., Second Floor, Fairfax. 703-789-6144. www.ollyollyart.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.