Poems and pictures have long cohabited in Chinese ink painting, an ancient form updated in two current shows. At the Athenaeum, Kan Kit-Keung takes a more familiar approach, at least to the verse he inscribes into his landscapes. Freda Lee-McCann, whose work is at Studio Gallery, also incorporates calligraphy, but often via collage, with the characters brushed onto scraps of newsprint.
Painting with black ink, Kan realistically portrays trees, rocks and birds, but these are just framing devices for the main event: water in motion. The China-bred Maryland artist’s show is titled “Falls, Waves and White Water,” which is accurate yet doesn’t convey the difficulty of Kan’s self-appointed task. He depicts the torrents and mists mostly as unpainted absences. Use of white space is customary in Chinese ink painting, but rarely to suggest something so dynamic as a waterfall.
Kan has scrutinized Western-style landscape painting, and visited epic North and South American vistas. The effects of those studies are evident in his paintings, although more so in the full-color ones. The near-monochromatic pictures in this show couldn’t be mistaken for orthodox Chinese paintings, but they tip the balance toward that tradition. It’s their vigor, not their style, that marks them as made-in-America.
Where Kan occasionally adds subtle blue tints, Lee-McCann often uses a second color, mostly blue, green or reddish brown. The D.C.-born Chinese American artist’s “Spirit of the Mountain” also depicts waterfalls, as well as snaky rivers. But these are secondary to her principal subjects: rocky peaks and outcroppings. These are rendered in ink, supplemented by watercolor and collage, or in acrylic. Ironically, the paintings made with latter, a modern medium, are the more traditional in form.
Some of the verse in Lee-McCann’s work is by her great-uncle, Jen Yuan-Tao, who wrote while fighting in the Chinese civil war during the 1920s. No translations are provided, but the titles of pictures such as “Longing for Home” give a sense of his concerns. Kan’s poems, which are translated, were inspired by specific sites, notably Brazil and Argentina’s Iguazu Falls. “My brush can highlight but a little portion of the wonders,” he wrote. Perhaps so, but “Falls, Waves and White Water” freezes the surges’ roar with silent grace.
Kan Kit-Keung: Falls, Waves and White Water On view through Sept. 18 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. 703-548-0035. nvfaa.org. Freda Lee-McCann: Spirit of the Mountain On view through Sept. 24 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. studiogallerydc.com.
All 10 artists in Honfleur Gallery’s “10th Anniversary East of the River Exhibition” have connections to the District’s Eastern precincts, but they get around. Photographers Susana Raab and Deborah Terry capture, respectively, a Peruvian dog with an expressive face and an impressionistic view of a New York subway car. James Stephen Terrell uses a pop-Cubist style to depict Minneapolis funk polymath Prince, while Matthew Mann takes a surrealistic look at duck hunting.
The eclectic BK Adams. I Am Art offers two pieces, including one literally built from pieces of the neighborhood: “All That Is Left (11th Street Bridge)” arrays I-beam sections from the demolished overpass, painted and partly covered with newspaper clippings. Wesley Clark (also featured in two current American University Museum shows) makes wooden targets as metaphors for African Americans’ sense of vulnerability. His “A Tale of Two” is a pair of such targets, one battered and the other not. Perhaps the contrast is intended to be merely visual, but it seems hopeful.
10th Anniversary East of the River Exhibition On view through Sept. 16 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. honfleurgallery.com.
Some of Ibou N’Diaye’s sculptures are like snapshots of his homeland in dark wood: A woman dances, a griot plays guitar, a farmer works the land (represented by a slab of lighter wood). But the sculptor, a recent arrival from Mali, sometimes moves toward abstraction. Among his work in “Movers and Shakers,” at the Zenith Gallery-programmed lobby space at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, is a distillation of an antelope in teak. It’s a web of elegant curves, topped by antlers that are the piece’s most literal aspect.
The clean lines of N’Diaye’s renderings are complemented by smoothly polished surfaces. Occasionally, the artist dresses a figure in cloth and beads, or represents clothing with an area of carved texture. While N’Diaye takes his cues from the quality of each piece of wood, he demonstrates an extraordinary ability to make it resemble fabric or flesh.
The show also includes a few of Preston Sampson’s neoimpressionist paintings, several of which depict musicians. To judge by the clothing, the principal milieu is the mid-20th-century United States. But the most striking piece is the sketchy “Griot,” whose simple lines are deftly modeled with crayon and wax.
Movers and Shakers: Ibou N’Diaye Sculptor and Preston Sampson Painter On view through Oct. 2 at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-783-2963. zenithgallery.com.
In 1954, the Royal Canadian Academy sought notable artists to paint murals for 18 Vista Dome rail cars that traveled a transcontinental route. Landscape was the logical subject, and several of the artists came from the Group of Seven, founded in 1920 to develop a distinctively Canadian style. Three of the Seven are represented in the Canadian Embassy’s “Murals From a Great Canadian Train,” but they’re not the stars of the show.
The Seven were sometimes criticized for depicting pristine wilderness, as if European immigrants had found an unpopulated land. But most of these scenes of Canadian national and provincial parks depict a human presence. This can be a lone hiker, an isolated structure or — in William Winter’s childlike depiction of a peaceable kingdom — a teeming family playground observed by deer and a benign bear clan. The most intriguing picture is George Arbuckle’s British Columbia vista, divided by vertical swipes into three seasons. Its simulation of ever-changing scenery is apt for a painting that spent decades traversing a vast country.
Murals From a Great Canadian Train On view through Sept. 16 at the Canadian Embassy, 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-682-1740. can-am.gc.ca/washington/events-evenements/Galerie_Art_Exhibit.aspx?lang=eng.