The Washington Post

In the galleries: The Washington Color School on show


Leon Berkowitz. “Direction,” oil on canvas; on view at Marin-Price Galleries. (Courtesy Leon Berkowitz and Marin-Price Galleries)

The Washington Color School, whose earliest exponents began staining canvases with diluted acrylic pigments in the late 1950s, is often presented as either a subset of New York’s abstract expressionism or a response to it. While either proposition can be argued, many of the early works by Color School artists don’t show much ab-ex influence.

They’re more like the pictures in “Washington School of Color,” at Marin-Price Galleries, which have a midcentury European feel. The forms are intricate but freehand, the gestures are small and interlocking and the colors echo traditional realist oil paintings — all of which suggest Klee or even Picasso more than Pollock or Motherwell. The more elemental shapes and hues came later.

The gallery’s selection, mostly from the 1960s, doesn’t include anything by the best-known (and priciest) Color School painters, notably Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Featured are the less-celebrated John Chapman Lewis and James Hilleary, along with Howard Mehring and Leon Berkowitz. The work here doesn’t reflect the latter two artists’ mature styles, although there’s a hint of Berkowitz’s in a stripe painting whose colors blur and glow.

Hard-edged lines and bars entered many painters’s vocabularies during the early ’60s, and not just in Washington. Although Louis poured his stripes, Noland, Mehring and others used straight edges to achieve theirs. So did Hilleary, but his paintings at Marin-Price are simultaneously soft and hard: They combine chevron-like patterns with blotchy backdrops, generally executed in different shades of the same color. Lewis’s large “Opus XII,” is similarly austere, with glimmers of orange and blue beneath a sand-colored surface. The two artists may not have been Color School exemplars, but in these pictures they open the door to minimalism.

Washington Color School: On view through Aug. 27 at Marin-Price Galleries, 7022 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-718-0622, www.marin-price.com.

Fine Artists in Residence

The works of four young artists and four mentors are displayed in the Mansion at Strathmore’s “2013-2014 Fine Artists in Residence Exhibition.” Although most are individual pieces, some of the more interesting are collaborations between the teachers, all of them local, and the students, who include one out-of-towner.

Vietnamese-born, Florida-raised Nguyen Khoi Nguyen is showing panels from his graphic novel about his family and heritage; some are traditional ink drawings, but most are digital prints or computer-screen images. Nguyen also joined with stained-glass and collage artist Eileen Martin to craft a multi-colored glass piece.

Ariel Klein, whose main event is a suite of oil paintings of uniformed band members, made a digital print with John Wang, a Taiwanese-born teacher of Chinese calligraphy. Perhaps the partnership influenced Klein’s Chinese-style digital print, which uses binary code to simulate flowing lines and watery washes.

Nigerian-born Chukwumaa darkened one of the galleries for an immersive installation involving sound, light and photographs. He also collaborated on a video piece with John James Anderson, who’s showing brightly colored geometric paintings on shaped canvases.

One of the mansion’s galleries is devoted to bodies and faces conjured by Ali Halperin, a New Yorker, and June Linowitz. The former employs fabric and tar, while the latter uses mixed media to suggest the chilly suppleness of carved marble. Working together, the two artists made “Avatar,” in which a painting of a young woman’s face dangles in front of a sculpture of what appears to be an older version of the same person. The juxtaposition of change and permanence is intriguing and evocative.

Leslie Printis. “Caribbean Woman,” mixed media paper; on view at Zenith Salon. (Leslie Printis)

2013-2014 Fine Artists in Residence Exhibition: On view through Aug. 24 at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, Md., 301-581-5109, www.strathmore.org/fineartexhibitions.

California, Nigeria, Washington D.C.

The title of Zenith Salon’s current show, “California, Nigeria, Washington D.C.,” says more about geography than style. Nigerian-born Doba Afalabi, who’s based in New York, honors his national and family history with expressionist paintings of dancers. But there’s an Asian flavor to Californian Leslie Printis’s flowery landscapes. And Ohio-bred Christopher Malone, the lone local of the three, draws on African folk art for his fetish-like ceramic and mixed-media figures.

Afalabi acknowledges that French impressionism influences his work, along with Yoruba carvings. More significant than either, though, may be the memory of his mother’s dancing. Heavy on black and red, such canvases as “Youth of Sudan” convey passion and motion.

Malone’s early statues are decorated with beads and flowers, but the later ones are no less embellished. It’s just that the artist, a Zenith regular, now incises woodcut-like runes into their bodies. The results are still flamboyant, but more elegant.

The quietest of the three sets of works, Printis’s collages combine actual leaves and petals with bits of Japanese paper that have been stained, painted and hand printed. The technique suits the artist’s depiction of blooming meadows, but Printis also uses it to render a woman in red who might be one of Afalabi’s dancers.

California, Nigeria, Washington D.C.: The Passion of the Media and the Process from a Global Perspective: On view through Sept. 6 at Zenith Salon, 1429 Iris St. NW, Washington; 202-783-2963; www.zenithgallery.com.

Real Beauty

One idea behind “Real Beauty,” the four-woman show at Carroll Square Gallery, is that abstract artists transform the real into something more true, more beautiful. The other is that abstraction is never entirely removed from the world we see and touch.

So Mariella Bison’s mixed-media “Falls Creek Panorama,” as its title concedes, is a landscape, even if doesn’t depict a recognizable place. The horizontal format, jagged, rocky shapes and suggestion of a land-sky divide all indicate a nature scene, even if close inspection reveals only paint and bits of torn paper. Conversely, Amber Robles-Gordon’s two hanging pieces use recognizable castoff objects, including fabric scraps and plastic water bottles, in assemblages that express nothing more concrete than swooping fluidity.

The two other artists are painters who don’t entirely accept the flatness of the medium. Deborah Zlotsky’s two canvases, one heavily blue and the other mostly pink, feature nonrepresentational shapes, but rounded, shadowed and bunched together to suggest depth. Ashlynn Browning’s four largely pastel pictures are geometric and sometimes architectural, as if derived from actual frameworks and facades. They’re not quite buildable, but neither are they Platonic ideals.

Real Beauty: On view through Aug. 29 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW; 202-234-5601, www.hemphillfinearts.com.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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