Peter Kephart has a singular technique, yet it yields several kinds of artworks. The West Virginia artist begins by roasting moistened cotton-rag paper over hot embers; he sometimes likes the results so much that he stops there. “Setting the World on Fire, One Painting at a Time,” at Zenith Gallery, includes several small works from the “Dominican Sunset” series that are merely charred. In other pieces, Kephart uses the scorched surface as the basis for elaborate paintings — often landscapes but occasionally abstractions.
The distinction isn’t always clear: The heat-swirled curves of “Abstract Natural #2” suggest a female torso. A few pictures, so painted that the burns that inspired them are barely discernible, include such realistic touches as a beached rowboat or a cloud-speckled blue sky. After it’s burned, the paper leaves jagged edges or outright voids, and Kephart highlights the absences with backing sheets, often red, whose color shows through.
Kephart’s innovation suggests various paths, and he explores many of them. What most often draws the eye, though, are the areas that remained white because the artist splashed them with a starchy paste before charring the paper. They are only the places where nothing happened, yet they glow like stars.
Zenith also is showing Anne Bouie’s “Transformative Roots and Ritual Objects,” which draws on African and pre-Columbian traditions. The D.C. artist’s most frequent gambit is to cover glass bottles with mortar, into which she presses dozens of small objects. “Mayan Day Signs Ensemble,” for example, is adorned with shiny beads in multicolor metallics. Bouie’s handiwork appears more primal when she uses natural items, such as shells, bones or seedpods. The finished pieces may not be actual ritual objects, but they have a near-talismanic appeal.
Peter Kephart: Setting the World on Fire, One Painting at a Time and Transformative Roots and Ritual Objects: The Art of Anne Bouie On view through Jan. 31 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. www.zenithgallery.com.
The checklist for Susan Roth’s “Form Frame Fold,” at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, divides the work into 12 “paintings” and nine “steel paintings.” Both sets involve applied color, but all could just as aptly be described as sculpture. The Upstate New York artist doesn’t simulate depth with line and color — she actually builds it with cut, folded and stitched canvas topped with thick gels, found objects and slabs of acrylic pigment and acrylic skin. When she began manipulating pieces of steel, the shift was more in technology than in outlook.
While the earliest painting at the gallery dates to 1982, all the steel pieces are from 2012 to 2014. Cleanly coated with powdered pigment, the metal assemblages summon memories of Los Angeles’ 1960s “Finish Fetish” art movement, which was inspired by the pristine surfaces of hot rods and surfboards. But even the simplest of Roth’s steel assemblages — “Her Head in the Clouds,” whose centerpiece is a length of green-coated metal tread — is a gnarled combination of multiple parts. Other examples are even more diverse, with shapes cut or burned into the metal and with contrasting hues of coating.
Both the canvas and the metal pieces are asymmetrical and intentionally motley, with a violent messiness that makes Willem de Kooning look like a minimalist. It is that ferocity that makes steel appear a more congenial substance for Roth than canvas. Both will be overpowered by the artist, but the metal can at least retain something of its character.
Susan Roth: Form Frame Fold On view through Jan. 30 at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, 805 21st St. NW, Second Floor. 202-994-1525. www.gwu.edu/~bradyart/brady/exhibitions.html.
Despite a title that suggests a theme, Foundry Gallery’s “The Passing Moment: New Work by Foundry Members” doesn’t have a discernible one. The work is in assorted media and ranges from sheer abstraction to meticulous realism. Selecting highlights from an array like this is inevitably arbitrary. But four of the artists show congenial sensibilities, even if their styles barely overlap.
At one extreme is Allen Hirsh, who writes software to transmute digital photographs into swirls of grainy color.
Hirsh is committed to the process of “mathematically generated art”; he doesn’t tinker with the images his equations yield, although, of course, he does choose which ones to exhibit. Hirsh’s hard-edged abstractions complement Amy Barker-Wilson’s expressionist ones, but hers are more tactile, since the artist works rumpled material into her bright and sometimes metallic pigments.
Like Barker-Wilson’s “Sky Bridging,” Natacha Thys’s “Daybreak” suggests a landscape. The paint is thick and choppy, seemingly applied with a palette knife rather than a brush, yet subtly layered as it shifts from blue ground (water, perhaps) to orange field (a sunset, possibly). The most representational of the four, Jay Peterzell offers a view of a house that’s largely hidden behind flowers. The structure is as flatly rendered as an architectural drawing, but the blooms are thickly impastoed, echoing both Thys’s and Barker-Wilson’s textured approaches and Hirsh’s method for recalculating real-world pictures as objective patterns.
The Passing Moment: New Work by Members On view through Feb. 1 at Foundry Gallery, 1314 18th St. NW. 202-463-0203. www.foundrygallery.org.
The Old Print Gallery’s “Winter Contemporary Show” is also without a theme, although it touches on those from previous exhibitions. Su-Li Hung’s two wood blocks of modernist towers — both more elegant than the buildings they depict — recall this past summer’s show of architectural prints, and Philip Bennet’s fluid “Splash #2” is a companion piece to one of his monotypes, 2012’s “Water.” Hung and Bennet are regulars at this gallery, as is Jake Muirhead, whose delicate “Thrush” conjures a bird into existence from a mix of random and purposeful lines.
Eric Goldberg’s sepia-toned “Winter Sonata” shows a birch grove that’s as jauntily upright as Hung’s skyscrapers but whose verticality is set off by the trees’ near-horizontal shadows. Nancy Previs’s shimmering “Harmonious Rhythm I” arrays silvery leaves on a charcoal-gray ground. More colorfully, Heather McMordie’s “Persistent Optimism” prints layer red, purple and green forms, while Susan Goldman’s two “Outside the Margin” variations superimpose vivid rings and waves upon black filigree. Like many of the show’s contributors, Goldman uses multiple printing techniques to craft a single image, yet her work is deftly unified.
Winter Contemporary Show On view through Feb. 14 at the Old Print Gallery, 1220 31st St. NW. 202-965-1818. www.oldprintgallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.