Neptune Fine Art’s current group show, “Out of Bounds,” is gloriously unseasonal. As winter begins to bluster outdoors, summer colors are sweeping and whirling through the Georgetown gallery. Although Neptune often shows prints, a few of which are included here, this is primarily a painting show, and despite the freewheeling quality of the paintings, many of them betray the influence of printmaking in their formal precision and careful composition.
Erick Johnson’s elegant abstractions, for example, look a bit like screenprints. The effect comes from layering colors, sanding them down and then layering again, so they’re raked like gravel in a Zen garden. The New York artist juxtaposes blocks of bright and muted hues, straight-edged on as many as three sides but fluid where they sweep off the canvas. Johnson’s graceful oils focus on a seam where several color fields meet. His other works include gouaches on paper, which are built, less gracefully but no less vividly, around a central rectangle.
Even more hard-edged are Bill Schmidt’s gouaches, in which straight or angular lines are pitted against hazy blues, grays and tans, and Jennifer Riley’s oils, in which areas of pure color are placed inside precisely rendered but eccentrically shaped outlines. Such Riley works as “Bridgit’s Valley” have the brightness of pop art but also resemble stained glass.
Among the softer works are Elizabeth Enders’s almost calligraphic oils, made with thick-lined gestures on white paper, and Ying Li’s heavily impastoed oils, hinting at mountain landscapes and painted in a Swiss resort town. Michael Weiss also works in oil, although paintings such as “Parley,” in lovely shades of aqua and blue, have an oceanic quality redolent of water-diluted pigments. With its bubbly shapes and swirling white lines, the picture is as immersive as the view from the bottom of a translucent lake. The Baltimore artist’s “Extractor” is equally fluid, but the work is more of an abstracted floral.
Of the several prints in the show, the main event is James Siena’s “Forty-Six Combs.” With its tightly interlocked forms printed in 33 colors, the piece, which is more than five feet high, is a formidable example of painters’ and printmakers’ desires to press beyond the bounds of each other’s crafts.
Out of Bounds On view through Nov. 29 at Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW. 202-338-0353. www.neptunefineart.com.
“Embodying the Ephemeral,” Leslie Berns and Shelley Warren’s show at Flashpoint Gallery, could refer to myriad aesthetic impulses. Both artists use video, and Berns has a background in dance, which might indicate an interest in light and motion. But Warren’s principal inspiration is Buddhist ritual, while Berns is concerned with the cultural definition of race, which absurdly exaggerates the significance of minor physical differences.
Berns’s photographs and performance video show a woman in black, holding forms that suggest flowers or mandalas. There also are wood-and-cloth wall reliefs of similar motifs. Along the gallery’s longest wall is the local artist’s “One Drop Rule/I Dreamed I Was a Butterfly,” a series of Matisse-like cutouts with blossoms in shades of tan, brown, white and black. The distinction between the last two colors — so toxic in terms of this country’s racial history — appears gentle and unremarkable. Berns depicts connections, not a divide.
Warren’s work is shaped by her longtime study of Nepalese Buddhism, which she evokes with chanting sounds and a video-dappled installation of offerings titled “Mudra” (Sanskrit for “ritual gesture”). The artist, who teaches at the University of Vermont, also has created looped videos of flickering candles and nuns in acts of prostration. In the partially darkened gallery, the effect is calming. Whether it’s profound or not seems a question more of theology than art.
Leslie Berns & Shelley Warren: Embodying the Ephemeral On view through Saturday at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. 202-315-1305. www.culturaldc.org/visual-arts/flashpoint-gallery.
There are fewer lonesome highways in “Crossroads,” William Mackinnon’s second show of paintings at Morton Fine Art, than in its 2012 predecessor. Naively painted subtropical foliage has begun to bloom in the Australian artist’s work, giving an unexpected Henri Rousseau-like feel to some of these pictures. Yet Mackinnon evokes the road even when he doesn’t stress it. He mixes oil and acrylic pigments with automotive enamel, applied with a spray gun and often used to depict illumination, whether from headlights or a fixed source. In “Trouble Will Find Me,” the glossy paint highlights a little pink house whose brightness is reflected in a puddle but otherwise framed by inky blackness.
Mackinnon names his landscapes after locations (“I Wanna Stay in L.A.”) and alt-rock music by the likes of the National and Magnolia Electric Co. His most evocative notion, however, is that these unpeopled works represent his own identity. “Landscape as Self-Portrait 2 (Leaving)” depicts the lights of an otherwise unseen car and a multi-hued night sky brushed with watery strokes, conjuring saturation and emptiness simultaneously. Zooming through the darkness, it seems, makes Mackinnon feel both alive and alone.
Crossroads: A Solo Exhibition of Paintings by Australian Painter William MacKinnon On view through Friday at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. www.mortonfineart.com.
What are artists thinking about today? Often, the answer seems to be “yesterday.” The paintings in Michael Booker’s “I Made This Just for You” reveal a desire “to return to an era romanticized by time and fading memories,” the artist writes. To the viewer who doesn’t share Booker’s recollections, though, these pictures may not seem tender. Jumbled and rough-edged, such canvases as “Holiday Special” verge on chaos.
Booker’s models include old photos as well as heirlooms that may predate popular photography: family quilts. In paintings such as “The Plaid Couch,” the local artist repeats variations on the same image in triangles or squares, as if stitching a patchwork quilt. It’s a metaphor, of course, but also works purely as design — cubism as accidently invented by someone’s great-grandmother. Some of Booker’s patterns are more regular than others, but they all give his reveries a whiff of the practical.
I Made This Just for You: Paintings by Michael Booker On view through Nov. 16 at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. 202-462-7833. www.dcartscenter.org.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.