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In the galleries: Turning the commonplace into uncommonly fine art

Caroline Hatfield’s “Shifting Sites” installation for the 2018 Trawick Prize; Bethesda Urban Partnership. (Caroline Hatfield/Gallery B)
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Ordinariness is a notable component of the work by this year’s finalists for the Trawick Prize, the Bethesda-based contemporary-art competition that’s in its 16th year. So are twine, beeswax, coal slag, rusted barrels, and needles and thread. All are enlisted in efforts to transcend their own banality in this exhibition at Gallery B.

The judges chose six Marylanders and two Washingtonians, most of whom have shown recently in local galleries. (Virginians are eligible, but none made it to the finals this year.) The first-place winner, Caroline Hatfield, is an installation artist who uses coal-mining detritus to signify environmental destruction, while creating a sense of place. Miniature mountains peek through the heaps of black slag she piled on the floor.

Mary Early employs handmade yellow wax segments to define space. Here, she suspends dozens of the bars in a symmetrical rectangular arrangement, outlining a sort of hanging box. Nearby, Nicole Salimbene assembles rolled-up retail receipts into a dangling construction that’s taller than the average person. Salimbene, who took second place, also offers a table studded with needles and wrapped with black thread that resembles hair.

Third-place winner Timothy Makepeace draws industrial architecture on a suitably large scale, rendering the commonplace sublime with photorealist attention to detail. Jay Gould makes black-and-white nature photos in which human presence (or absence) is eerie. Even more elusive is the Clay Dunklin video, in which a barely visible gray corona comes and goes.

There are just two painters, and neither works in a conventional format. Lori Anne Boocks’s color-field abstractions are on fabric that’s bunched and tied with string. Phaan Howng covers one side of the gallery with a floor-to-ceiling post-catastrophe forest, painted on translucent fabric. Like Hatfield and Early, Howng brings outside in and is as interested in shaping space as in making images.

The Trawick Prize Through Sept. 29 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave. No. E, Bethesda.

Qais Al-Sindy

The white canvases and black frames used in Qais Al-Sindy’s “16x20x20” are identical in size, and appear equivalent in every other way. Yet, the Baghdad-bred Californian collected the materials for the 20 16-by-20-inch paintings on view at Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al-Quds in various countries around the globe. That inspired the artist to explore themes of exile and fundamental humanity: The ingredients come from everywhere yet are essentially the same.

Executed in an expressionist style, the pictures mostly show colorful single figures on gray backgrounds. Al-Sindy gave them titles such as “Bring the Moon With You,” and then enlisted writers to sketch his characters’ stories in poems with the same titles. The paintings include the hopeful “Woman in Red” and the bereft “The Woman Who Carried Her Country Over Her Head,” which is almost entirely black and white, save for a trace of gold. On balance, though, Al-Sindy’s suite is more a tribute to migrants’ resilience than a lament for their loss.

Qais Al-Sindy: 16x20x20 Through Sept. 28 at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al-Quds, 2425 Virginia Ave. NW.

Hubert Jackson

To commemorate the Civil War, Virginia artist Hubert Jackson makes mixed-media paintings that are layered not only with pigment, but also relics discovered on battlefields. A few of these evocative artworks are now on view at Zenith Gallery (which closes this weekend), and more are in the Zenith-organized exhibition marking the 20th anniversary of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.

At the center of the latter selection is a large portrait of Charlie Wright, a runaway slave who provided crucial information to the Union Army about the Confederate push toward Gettysburg. Most of Jackson’s Civil War subjects, however, are ghosts. In his “Spirits Of” series, he depicts the souls of slain soldiers as shafts of light ascending from hard-fought territory. Contrasting the pictures’ ethereal elements are such found objects as manacles and horseshoes, worked into the thickly applied paint. In these solemn pictures, Jackson’s multi-strata approach embodies a nation’s fragmentation as well as its reunification.

Hubert Jackson Through Sept. 23 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW and through Nov. 18 at African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, 1925 Vermont Ave. NW.

Nield & Pickett

In several local exhibitions, the work of two artists is thrust into dialogue. Charlene Nield and Ann Pickett go further in their Foundry Gallery show, “a deux.” Each artist is showing just one painting executed alone; the others are full collaborations.

In form, Nield seems to dominate. The four-handed works look more like her solo one: representational, expressionist and punctuated with collaged patterns that range from simple lines to elaborate floral motifs. Yet the color sense of Pickett’s abstraction is evident in the pictures, which mostly portray women. Other compositions, which sometimes stretch across paired canvases, portray a snake charmer and a dog whose mostly orange coat incorporates many other hues. Like most of the duo’s subjects, the animal has a playful immediacy that owes as much to gesture as to recognizable image.

Charlene Nield and Ann Pickett: a deux Through Sept. 30 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW.

Brown & Molesky

Both Michael Brown and David Molesky might be classified as outsider artists, but their methods are vastly different. Brown, who calls his works on paper “doodles,” has an affinity for graffiti, tattoo art, underground comics and 1960s hot-rod illustrations. Molesky, who depicts civil wars and street protests, is an oil painter with classical technique.

What the two share, aside from being shown together at the Fridge, is a fascination with fire and smoke. The title of Molesky’s show, “Return to Sender,” refers to rebels who hurl tear-gas canisters back at the riot police who threw them. The Brooklynite’s canvases show insurrection but emphasize flashes of light amid darkness and billowing clouds — the sort of strong yet ethereal forms favored by the Romantic artists who nudged painting toward abstraction.

Rebellion and conflagration also feature in Brown’s untitled show, which consists of a few 3-D constructions and hundreds of drawings. The D.C. artist’s style is rooted in kiddie comics and animation, skewed and tainted to suggest the loss of childhood innocence. Where Molesky chronicles a world set on fire by conflict, Brown tours a Toontown that’s quietly gone to seed.

Michael Brown and David Molesky: Return to Sender Through Sept. 28 at the Fridge,
516½ Eighth St. SE (rear).