Written language can be sculpture, incised in clay or stone. It can be painting, brushed spontaneously across paper or embellished painstakingly on ornate manuscripts. It can also be technology, generated by laser printers or — before the age of desktop publishing — rubbed letter by letter from plastic dry-transfer sheets.
Graphic artists of a certain age will quickly recognize how Jessica Jane Julius uses transfer lettering in “On the Verge,” her VisArts show. The Philadelphia artist isn’t simply having fun with a near-obsolete method of placing type. Her goal is to illustrate “the anxieties and complexities of language through the lens of dyslexia,” a gallery note explains. (For those who never used a stylus to rub a letter from plastic to paper, a video reveals the process.)
Among the most vivid pieces are “Clear,” in which letters, numbers and broken bits of both are clumped tightly together in a sort of sans-serif thumb print; and “Dahlia Purple,” in which jittery lines of tiny letters nudge and overlap as though about to convene into an avant-garde poem. Julius also doodles a flower with transferred letters and displays plastic sheets on which red ballpoint-ink scratchings echo the letters previously shifted to another surface.
Transfer lettering isn’t the artist’s only medium. The show’s largest piece, “Irradiated Circuitry,” is a loose nest of black glass near-globes that dangle on copper wire. In impact and implication, the hanging sculpture is akin to the type pieces. It can be seen to express chaos and confusion, or to discover beauty in a random array of black marks. Viewers needn’t be transfer-letter aficionados to appreciate the graphic appeal of Julius’s alphanumeric fantasias.
Jessica Jane Julius: On the Verge Through Jan. 6 at Gibbs Street Gallery, VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville.
Unlike Jessica Jane Julius, Brian Dupont employs real words, not just jumbled letters, in his art. Yet, the last time the painter exhibited at Adah Rose Gallery, discerning the significance of the text was a challenge. His new work includes phrases borrowed from some of the same writings, which the Brooklyn artist stencils or occasionally scrawls onto aluminum panels or sheets of paper. But the show takes its title, “Made and Remade Until Made Right,” from lines of a source closer to home: fragments of an unfinished poem by Dupont’s wife, Rachael Lynn Nevins.
The theme is longing for perfection, Nevins writes in a gallery note. Having failed to achieve that ideal, she ceded the lines to her husband “so that he could destroy them.”
Destruction isn’t exactly what Dupont does, but neither is making things right. The painter swabs rough-edged bars of subdued color from which bits of words and phrases emerge, often in reverse. Abstract expressionism and pop art dovetail in these pictures, in which empty space — sometimes the result of stripping pigment — is as central as swaths of black, gray or dark red. The results suggest the surface of a battered metal shipping container, or a Zen exercise. Perhaps perfection can be read somewhere between absence and presence.
Brian Dupont: Made and Remade Until Made Right Through Dec. 31 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington.
Last year, a Japanese student sued her high school because it insisted she conform to the dress code by dying her naturally brown hair black. The administrators apparently think that ebony locks are essential to “Asian Identity,” the title of a three-artist show at the Korean Cultural Center that features a mass of hairlike synthetic fiber at the center of one gallery.
Seoul-born Yuni Lang Kim’s interest in black tresses stems from a life lived mostly in the West, where such hair is unusual rather than routine. The Michigan-based artist exaggerates the strands into landscape-like compositions, and braids it around the people she photographs. In one picture, a mother and young child are cocooned in black locks as though dozing under a quilt or floating in a bed of kelp. The effect is to make the simulated hair appear simultaneously homey and strange.
For Khanh H. Le, a Vietnam-born D.C. artist, identity is family. He makes paintings that are derived from old snapshots, partly disguising the particulars with decorative patterns that incorporate sequins and glitter. Faces and other details vanish, and embellishments dominate, yet glimmers of specific memories remain.
Kim and Le are now rooted in the United States, but Sarawut Chutiwongpeti is intentionally unsettled. The Thai-born artist’s photographs and videos contrast reveries with mundane physical reality: passport visa stamps and international consumer products flitter past in montage. In one video, a man sews together an array of plastic bags, attempting to make something — an identity? — from manufactured goods that are barely more than nothing.
Asian Identity Through Jan. 4 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Lengths of wood are both repurposed and de-purposed in “Push & Pull: Variations on Nature,” the eight-artist show at the Brentwood Arts Exchange. Many of the artworks use preexisting objects, as well as photographs or video. The emphasis is as much on finding and seeing as it is on making.
Marcia Wolfson-Ray constructs thickets of thick pine and thin willow, wrapping the latter around the former. These assemblages resemble naturally occurring objects less than Travis Childers’s tree stumps, except that Childers builds his pieces out of hundreds of yellow pencils, thus restoring the wooden cylinders partway to their origins.
C. Tara and David Gladden erect totems of worn wood atop found-metal bases, which stand before a video of a dancer superimposed on a mountainscape. Heather Brand offers foliage photos, sometimes with actual plants placed in front of them. Such morsels of engineered nature as lawns and urban ponds are confined by fences and concrete in Madeleine Marak’s photos, while Neal Cox superimposes abstract patterns over mountain photos.
Lynda Andrews-Barry contributes the most diverse pieces, including a video of fish swimming with abstract drawings. She also inserts photos of cloud-flecked blue skies into circular ornamental borders, hung next to a rectangular picture of a power plant, and matches an avian video to a gold model bird inside a cage. In such juxtapositions, nature is both lost and found.
Push & Pull: Variations on Nature Through Dec. 29 at the Brentwood Arts Exchange, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood.