In his realist oils, Michael Sastre depicts pink flamingos, green jungles and everyday life in Caribbean hamlets. Oh, yeah, and drug smuggling. The artist’s VisArts show, “Collision/Collusion: A Personal Underground,” could be a collection of unusually detailed storyboards from a planned narco-thriller, or a collaboration between John James Audubon and cocaine-conspiracy reporter Gary Webb. When the painter includes a drive-in theater in one vignette, the movie on the screen is “Scarface.”
Yet Sastre, who has a studio in Rockville and lives part time in Miami, doesn’t disclose a political or even narrative agenda. In the foreground of his paintings are gentle moments, such as a river baptism or a dog’s nap. The drug-laden aircraft that swoop through these landscapes are as everyday as the birds whose flights mirror the planes’ movements.
The artist has “a very close family connection to the world depicted in his recent work,” a mysterious biographical note reports. But Sastre seems just as interested in the pictures’ settings as in their activities. He carefully renders dense foliage, crimson skies and complex reflections in languid rivers. The show also includes pencil sketches and airplane parts, but it’s most compelling when all of its elements — light and color, scenery and activity, banality and menace — combine in a vision of radiant nature and grubby humanity.
Michael Sastre: Collision/Collusion: A Personal Underground On view through Nov. 20 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
The coast is quieter in “Shoreline,” Carroll Square Gallery’s show of three photographers who document Mid-Atlantic waterfronts. Greg Kahn looks at both people and places to reveal change on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Glen McClure presents a suite of nearly life-size portraits of shipyard workers in Norfolk. Miller Taylor’s wide-angle shots, mostly of buildings condemned after a 2009 nor’easter, signal the precariousness of the human presence on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
There’s no violence in Taylor’s black-and-white pictures, although in one, an ominously dark sky sets off streaks of white clouds. Whether keyed to the horizon or the lines of a battered bridge, the photos emphasize the sweep of a world that’s too wide for a camera lens (or a human eye) to encompass.
McClure’s pictures, also black and white, are formal portraits of people in gear that represents the physicality of their jobs. Helmets abound, and one man is in full diving gear. The majority of the subjects are women and include a 42-year veteran and a 22-year-old who was her employer’s only female shipfitter. Their still faces belie the challenges of their work.
Kahn, the only one of the trio showing color images, captures a different sort of laborer — crab pickers, oyster shuckers, muskrat trappers — as well as places where the life they know is vanishing. The most evocative image is one of the surf washing across a two-lane highway. This watery glaze is no nor’easter, but it indicates the coastal future as surely as Taylor’s storm-battered structures.
Shoreline On view through Nov. 23 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com/exhibitions/carroll-square-gallery/current-exhibitions.
“Trespassing,” the title piece in the Werner Drewes retrospective at the Washington Printmakers Gallery, arrays stark shapes in black, gray and yellow. The print demonstrates the austere formalism that might be expected from someone who studied at the Bauhaus, as Drewes did. But more often, the black emblems float amid brighter colors, as if to declare that the artist has found sunnier climes. The blue-heavy “Drifting” even dispenses altogether with black, giving the picture the blitheness its name promises.
Although born in Germany, Drewes spent most of his life in the United States; from 1972 until his death in 1985, his home was Reston. The works in this show are primarily from 1970 to 1985, although the earliest date to the 1940s. Those prints are black-and-white engravings, but the later ones are all woodcuts. The shapes retain something of the wood’s grain, so the final image has a rough, worn quality. Although his compositions often reflect the Bauhaus’ machine-age aesthetic, Drewes countered that with the natural and the handmade.
Trespassing: Werner Drewes On view through Nov. 26 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-669-1497. washingtonprintmakers.com.
She works with oils, cold wax and powdered pigment rather than wood and ink, but Heather Jacks gives some of her pictures a weathered surface akin to Werner Drewes’s. The Maryland artist, showing with Natacha Thys in the Foundry Gallery’s “Color, Texture, Vision,” endows color-field painting with an engrossing depth. Lower levels can be glimpsed through the scrapes and cracks, evoking the battered patinas of aged metals and ceramics. Jacks also shows her affinity for antiques with small photos made with 19th-century techniques.
Jacks’s excavations of purple and bronze imply man-made objects, but her dives into azure are more oceanic. The shades of blue are rich and varied, yet within a close range. A tiny slice of the spectrum is all she needs to conjure an entire sea.
Thys's style is similar, but with more overt contrast, both in color and texture. Most of the D.C. artist’s pictures feature a multihued disruption between two nearly solid fields. The pigment ripples in small vertical cells that overlap tightly. From a distance, Thys's paintings appear nearly as serene as Jacks’s, but at close range, they’re considerably more kinetic.
Color, Texture, Vision: Natacha Thys & Heather Jacks On view through Nov. 27 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW. 202-232-0203. foundrygallery.org.
The title of Jill Brantley’s show at Touchstone Gallery, “Situations,” suggests annoyances and predicaments. In fact, the circumstances the Alexandria artist’s collage-paintings depict are frisky and whimsical. These pictures feature people and animals — mostly canine — having a fine old time.
Brantley incorporates scraps of fabric, most often to represent apparel such as the matching outfits worn by women and their dogs, and bits of paper and shards of mirrored glass. There’s a mop of 3-D hair on the artist in “Left to His Imagination,” who’s consulting a small picture of a clothed woman while he paints her as a nude. With their old-timey furnishings, these vignettes seem set in the past, but it’s a past redecorated by artistic imagination.
Situations: Jill Brantley On view through Nov. 27 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. 202-347-2787. touchstonegallery.com.