As artists increasingly turn to nature for inspiration, local galleries often display arrangements of tendrils, evoking roots, branches and nests. The simulated gardens of Rebecca Kamen’s “Continuum” are different. The centerpieces of her show at the Greater Reston Arts Center represent neural pathways and hypotheses that seek to explain the universe.
Separated by a small gap, “Portal” and “NeuroCantos” are similar installations. Both involve hanging cones of Mylar hand-cut into lacy forms and suspended over circles centered on rocks or fossils. The first piece, marking the centennial of the theory of general relativity, is orderly and mostly white; the second, whose title means “brain songs,” is darker and more agitated. Apparently Kamen, whose early education was impeded by dyslexia, thinks the cosmos is tidier than the mind.
Adding to the enveloping effect are soundtracks, devised by Susan Alexjander, that meld recordings of brain and space activities with the words of two of Kamen’s gurus, poet Steven J. Fowler and scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal.
Elsewhere in the gallery, constructions of wire give a more industrial vibe to Kamen’s attempts to depict the world’s inner workings. “Matter Informing Space,” from 2009, uses steel wire to orbit wads of painted Mylar, which could represent either heavenly bodies or stray thoughts. Human consciousness and outer space may be puzzles of entirely different kinds, but they’re equally enigmatic. And, as Kamen learned from Albert Einstein that “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”
Rebecca Kamen: Continuum On view through Feb. 13 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston. 703-471-9242. restonarts.org.
On the quest to explore outer space, pulp writers and illustrators got a head start on fine artists. So it’s only fair that the Washington Project for the Arts’ cosmically themed “Other Worlds, Other Stories” includes works from both camps.
Lucy West’s realist space-scapes are precise, luminous and grand, suitable for the covers of 1950s intergalactic adventure novels. It’s the art-worlders who focus on gritty details, make inside jokes or gaze backward. A duo trading as Menu4Mars offers materials for dining in a seriously takeaway setting, while Roxana Pérez-Méndez imagines Puerto Rico’s version of NASA. Casey Johnson’s massive “Oculus” combines a simulated observatory with a wooden space capsule that recalls Jules Verne-era notions of sailing to the stars.
“Oculus” is suspended in midair, just a few feet from Jefferson Pinder’s elegant “Black Hole,” a large, wall-mounted disc that appears to float. Its ebony surface glitters, while neon light from behind the circle gives it a heavenly glow. In another setting, though, it might seem merely stark, not spacey.
Two other artists’ contributions draw on interplanetary phenomena, yet are more art than science. Felipe Gonclaves’s large wall painting spins a cartoonish wormhole across a cosmic backdrop, creating the illusion that its center has been cut into slices that have been yanked to one side. Adam Fung’s pattern paintings, inspired by astronomy, superimpose geometric forms over twinkling black skies. His gemlike “New Star” is an act of abstraction, not observation.
Other Worlds, Other Stories On view through Feb. 20 at the Washington Project for the Arts, 2124 Eighth St. NW. 202-234-7103. wpadc.org.
As Morris Louis brilliantly did a half-century ago, Greg Minah pours acrylic pigment on canvas. But the similarity ends there, as Minah’s show at the VisArts Gibbs Street Gallery demonstrates. The paintings in “Wash” are complexly layered and patterned. Where Louis and his peers employed blank canvas as a crucial compositional element, Minah’s denser pictures often feature white-painted areas that evoke hazy mist or churning surf.
That’s apt, because the Baltimore-based artist’s technique relies on water. Minah drizzles thinned colors on the canvas, then tilts and spins to diffuse them. He subtracts as well as adds, sometimes removing most of a layer of paint with jets of water. The results are complex and fluid, whether they hint at the ocean or, more thickly, streams of lava. Yet the outlines of purged paint create honeycombed lines, often reversed into darker areas. Minah’s lush color-field paintings are also accidental drawings.
Installed in the darkened, mostly empty VisArts Kaplan Gallery, Thanasi Papapostolou’s “Eikona/Image” consists of eight humanoid sculptures under spotlights. Five, dubbed “amorphous herms,” have only heads atop plaster pillars. One is a full and realistic female nude, expertly rendered in a neoclassical style. The other two are more like the herms, but with certain, um, details to indicate their gender.
The local artist explains the figures as reflections of the “dilemma/crisis of self-projection” in the contemporary world. Yet as installed here, they seem more ancient than modern. “Eikona/Image” resembles a secular Greek temple, and its solemnity suggests a quest for the sort of ritual and meaning that was once integral to daily life.
Wash: New Paintings by Greg Minah and Eikona/Image: Thanasi Papapostolou On view through Feb. 14 at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
Two Russian expats of different generations but similar influences, Masha Trebukova and Oleg Kudryashov appear compatible in Gallery Neptune & Brown’s “Anything but Silent.” Kudryashov, who’s often shown by Brown, makes one-of-a-kind prints that he hand-colors and sometimes cuts and folds into 3-D constructions. Heavy blacks bracket lighter, brighter hues, most subtly in a piece where the only color contrast is pale green.
The younger Trebukova uses some similar gestures. but her drawing-paintings are freer and less geometric, without Kudryashov’s straight lines and regular circles. Her often-untitled abstractions can resemble landscapes and pile pastel, watercolor and pencil as if they were layers of rock and sediment. Natural-world shades abound, but two of the most striking pieces are more electric. One (which is in the flat file, not on the wall) takes its cues from the peacock-blue paper on which it’s made; the other is sort of a night vision, its black accented by red and blue. Where Kudryashov’s style is rooted in memories of urban Moscow, Trebukova sets out for wilder territory.
Anything but Silent: Masha Trebukova and Oleg Kudryashov On view through Feb. 21 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. robertbrowngallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.