Back when fine art’s superiority to popular and folk varieties went unquestioned, its materials also were exalted: Oil paint and marble were considered inherently more noble than commonplace stuff. That hierarchy began to be challenged a century ago, yet a piece such as Jen Noone’s “Vacation” is still a bit startling.
The artwork, on display in WAS Gallery’s “To Be a Thing,” is a field of blue streaks, waves and frozen bubbles, mounted horizontally on a white pedestal. The blankly gleaming surface recalls mid-20th-century California art, inspired by sleek, candy-colored objects such as surfboards and sports cars. But Noone didn’t use fiberglass or auto-body paint; she painted “Vacation” with applications of Suave Ocean Breeze liquid body wash.
Noone and the show’s other participant, Travis Childers, are intrigued by how synthetic consumer products pay tribute to a natural world that’s in retreat. Childers simulates biological phenomena with everyday, man-made things, such as the plastic pen caps he studded into an orb he titled “Spore.” He also employs model-railroad fake vegetation to make miniature landscapes mounted atop a cinder block, a procession of bricks or a single pencil. Noone’s contribution to the fake forest is tiny but actual Alberta spruce trees, covered in green “Shimmering Pine” wax from the Yankee Candle line.
Domestic merchandise pitched to women is Noone’s specialty. She makes stripe paintings with Essie nail polish, identifying the various shades, which include Guilty Pleasures and Meet Me at Sunset. Her variation on earth art is an array of stones dolled up with foundation, bronzer and L’Oréal Paris True Match Lumi Liquid Glow Illuminator. Nature can always be improved upon.
Both artists are indebted to Dada and surrealism, but the piece most in those tradition-busting traditions is Childers’s “Porcupine Shirt.” It’s a simple white garment prickling with barbs that turn out to be pushpins, pressed outward from inside the fabric. Like Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 “Breakfast in Fur” — a teacup, saucer and spoon covered in gazelle hair — Childers’s pointed construction gives the everyday a hint of the feral.
To Be a Thing On view through Aug. 26 at WAS Gallery, 5110 Ridgefield Rd., Bethesda. 202-361-5223. wasgallery.com.
Paint still rules in the 11th installment of “Strictly Painting,” but the McLean Project for the Arts’ biennial survey is not strict about barring other ingredients. The exhibition, at the MPA’s temporary Chain Bridge Gallery, features ink, crayon, pencil and a wealth of collaged materials, including wire and junk mail. The show’s conceptual coup, Steven Dobbin’s “The Colors of Our Lives,” is a sculpture about painting: a grid of reclaimed can lids caked with dried and mostly white pigment.
The 32-person selection features no pop art, no post-painterly abstraction and little representation. Instead, most of the participants explore texture and surface. Maggie Gourlay layers white over a wallpaper-like print, revealed by a tiny gash in the paint. John H. Adams renders tectonic patterns in gray and gold, divided by white bands. Carol Ann Reed combines textile-like motifs with sketchy forms in muted aqua and red. Joanna Kent’s two black pictures feature barklike grain, oriented vertically on one and horizontally on the other. Kent’s duo is one of 10 sets by a single artist in the show, which seems designed to showcase an abundance of small, kindred gestures.
Strictly Painting 11 On view through Aug. 12 at MPA at Chain Bridge Gallery, 1446 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. 703-790-1953. mpaart.org.
The three local artists in Betty Mae Kramer Gallery’s current show are well known and regularly exhibited in the area. Still, it’s interesting to see their nature-inspired work together in “A Bird’s Eye View” — even if it doesn’t all quite fit that title.
The most emphatically airborne entry is Susan Hostetler’s wall-mounted swoop of 30 avian figurines, sculpted of clay and crisscrossed with decorative patterns. The artist is also showing pencil drawings of birds, embellished with gouache. These are on layers of Mylar to add depth, placing the likenesses somewhere between conventional pictures and the fully three-dimensional ceramic ones.
Like Hostetler, Beverly Ress executes drawing-paintings that break the picture plane. Ress’s pictures, small and precise, float on vast expanses of creamy paper that the artist usually punctuates with intricate cutting. She often depicts ornithological specimens, but there’s only one of those in this group. A study of two orbs is on unsliced paper, while “Knit” intertwines severed strands. “Blue Macaw” flutters farthest into space, with a cutout spiral colored the same hue as the bird.
Dalya Luttwak takes her inspiration from roots, not birds, and works with steel, not paper or plastic. Yet her standing sculptures complement the other artworks, thanks to shared concerns with natural and abstract forms. Painted gold, sometimes with black accents, Luttwak’s three pieces transmute the organic, yet preserve something of nature’s way.
A Bird’s Eye View On view through Aug. 18 at Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, One Veterans Place, Silver Spring. 301-565-3805. bettymaekramergallery.com.
In one of Anna Davis’s large, mosaic-like paintings at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art Gallery, passengers stream off a jetliner. Their arrival point is not specified, but three of the four contributors to “Oh Say Can You See: Émigré Artists in America” are foreign-born Washingtonians. If they’re not from countries covered by President Trump’s controversial travel ban, their interest in the topic is understandable.
The Swedish-born Davis’s other picture is a well-populated picnic scene whose revelers include Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The identical figures lined up in Mikray Pida’s paintings are universal symbols for man, arrayed on flaglike fields; Pida is an Uighur from the deserts of Western China, by birth an outsider in a regimented society. Earth tones ground Joan Belmar’s work, inspired by his native Chile; these paintings, less openly political than some of his output, suggest the influence of Joan Miró.
Also featured is an assemblage by KM Ramich, who makes common cause with the other three with a protective vest. Rather than bulletproof, the gear is beaded with the words “bigot proof.” It’s a nod of welcome to newcomers to the United States, whatever sort of freedom they seek.
Oh Say Can You See: Émigré Artists in America On view through Aug. 15 at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art Gallery at Dacha Loft, 1602 Seventh St. NW, second floor. 202-638-3612. charleskrausefineart.com.