John James Audubon, who revolutionized the depiction of birds, began each painting with an ungenerous act: He killed its subject. These days, artists such as Miranda Brandon needn’t turn to violence. Urban areas are awash in dead birds, a billion of which perish annually in collisions with glass-wall buildings, the American Bird Conservancy estimates. Brandon was inspired to make the disturbingly lovely photographs in “Impact,” her VisArts show, while volunteering with Audubon Minnesota’s Project Birdsafe.
The photos were shot in Brandon’s studio, and the finished pictures are the result of digital compositing. The artist consolidates multiple views to produce oversize images of extraordinary crispness and detail. Every feather is distinct against the white backdrop, otherwise blank save for the subject’s gray shadow.
The birds, which include a nuthatch, a hummingbird and several varieties of warblers, are enlarged to as much as 12 times their actual size. This makes their presence as overwhelming as the devastation of their falling, partly flattened bodies. The creatures’ delicacy is equally vivid, even in the ghostly, white-on-black “Impact (Residue),” the only picture that doesn’t show a nearly intact bird. Brandon’s photos don’t merely document the loss of beauty; they make palpable the end of life.
Miranda Brandon: Impact Through July 1 at Gibbs St. Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
There are a few black-and-whites in “Finding Light,” Thom Goertel’s Corner Store show, but the local photographer plainly has a nose for color. Among the vivid surfaces he catalogues are four single-hued facades in red, yellow or green — found in Mexico and Iceland — and a wall and radiator in a former Pittsburgh printing plant that sport a leftover rainbow of splattered inks.
While Goertel is drawn to color and form, there’s another major element in his work. “Radiator/Ink” is one of only three photos without a human presence. Sometimes, the people are overshadowed by their surroundings, such as the stage-set architecture of Las Vegas, or partly hidden by veils, such as the soap-streaked glass of “Window Washer.”
Yet the figures’ existence is crucial to the compositions, which imply a narrative, however enigmatic. (The photographer compares his images to “haiku that’s missing a line.”) In Goertel’s most intriguing pictures, the view through the lens is countered by the gaze his subjects return.
Thom Goertel: Finding Light Through June 30 at the Corner Store, Ninth Street and South Carolina Avenue SE. 202-255-2180. cornerstorearts.org.
Usually, the glazes and slips that overlay pottery are thin and become fused with the object during firing. Ceramicist Nick Geankoplis takes a different approach to layering in Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s “Stratum.” His wall-mounted pieces contrast chunky, bright-colored drips with black images of traditional Chinese and contemporary globalist icons.
Geankoplis works and teaches in Kansas, but spent four years in Beijing. That sojourn prompted ceramics that are both minimal and busy. Fitted into gold frames, the pieces are white planes that are empty save for areas covered by the dripped glazes. That’s where the artist places the transferred Chinese decorative motifs and an occasional Western corporate logo. The technique is intriguing and risky: This show was supposed to have included a larger selection, but only three survived the firing process.
“Stratum” also features several photo collages by Steve Miller, whose work was shown at the National Academy of Sciences this year. Miller combines X-rays of animal skeletons with aerial photography of the Amazon rain forest to make pictures of endangered nature that are rich visually and metaphorically.
In addition, the gallery is showing “Summer Fresh,” ceramics by Marissa McInturff that are more functional than Geankoplis’s work. The flowerpots and similar items are in sunny or earthy Mediterranean hues — McInturff is based in Barcelona — and made of stackable pieces. All are small in scale, yet in shapes that suggest towers and spires. Grouped together, the vessels resemble a miniature city.
Nick Geankoplis and Steve Miller: Stratum and Marissa McInturff: Summer Fresh “Stratum” through June 30 and “Summer Fresh” through July 31 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
Traditional gender roles were upheld in Gayle Friedman’s childhood home, to judge by “Measuring the Weight of Longing,” her IA&A at Hillyer show. Her mother collected Delftware, and her father accumulated tools. Both parents are now gone, and their stuff was left to their daughter, a D.C. artist who has assembled the objects into playfully incongruous tableaux.
The inheritances are bittersweet reminders of Friedman’s Alabama youth, but she doesn’t venerate them. They’re placed together in ways that cause new, absurd relationships between the brawny, slightly rusty tools and the dainty, blue-and-white ceramics. Most of them are arranged tidily in boxes, but some are piled into a bathtub filled with several inches of brownish water.
The artist also makes jewelry — decorative items not unlike ceramic figurines — and forges tool-shaped pieces from clay. The keepsakes juxtaposed in this array are physical reminders of Mom and Dad, but that legacy also survives in Friedman’s attention to detail and dedication to craft.
Gayle Friedman: Measuring the Weight of Longing Through July 1 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW. 202-338-0325. athillyer.org.
The title of Mike Cloud’s Greater Reston Arts Center show, “Figure Studies,” invokes a technique from classical painting. The Brooklyn artist is no neoclassicist, but he does ponder art’s basic elements, including color, shape and contradiction. In his sculptural paintings of forms such as a six-pointed star, the pigment is as roughly applied as the contours are precisely defined.
Among Clark’s inspirations are the Roman abduction of Sabine women, long a subject for European painters, and photographs by Annie Liebovitz, which yield a series of collages atop pale pink backdrops. One collage depicts Manhattan’s World Trade Center, but the twin towers are just vertical cutouts of 9/11 smoke. In context, a simple shape can be powerful and even poignant.
Mike Cloud: Figure Studies Through July 7 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston. 703-471-9242. restonarts.org.