An artist’s preference for watercolor is revealing. It indicates a taste for delicacy and immediacy and a sense of the world as a succession of fleeting, privileged moments. Perhaps that’s why Patricia Williams’s show at Touchstone Gallery is titled “Hidden Things Revealed.” The Virginia artist’s still lifes are hardly esoteric, but they do undertake the metaphysical challenge of freezing instants amid unceasing change.
Williams works with watercolor pencil, whose lines can be liquefied with water, and water-based pigment applied by brush. Unlike most watercolorists, she applies multiple washes of paint, which is how she achieves voluptuous images such as “Plum Perfect,” which is halved, deep red and seemingly juicy. Williams also makes lyrical, near-abstract pictures in which bits of living things — petals, wings, pincers — swirl on white grounds.
The artist links objects by essential shape, as in a lineup of a pine cone, a pear and an artichoke. Yet she imposes her own formal constraints, dividing many of the pictures into two parts: a main panel and a small strip above. She also is fastidious with secondary elements such as the handsomely heathered backdrops. Williams may have a gentle touch, but it’s in the service of a forceful vision.
Patricia Williams: Hidden Things Revealed On view through Feb. 1 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. 202-347-2787. www.touchstonegallery.com.
Hard edges and bright hues are the common ingredients of the three Montgomery County artists in Gallery B’s “Coloring All the Angles.” Fran Abrams makes multi-toned constructions of polymer clay; Bob Elliott prints pixel-like abstractions on brushed aluminum panels; and Eric Garner combines lengths of old wood trim, freshly painted, into wall-mounted vertical assemblages.
Abrams’s work is not painted; the colors are inherent in the material, which she shapes with a pasta maker. Her work has become more representational, with cloudlike white patches in “Blue Skies Smiling at Me” and treelike tidbits atop the curves of “How Green Was My Valley.” Elliott’s pieces have a high-tech sheen, but recall older patterns. “Red Line 2.O” is a sort of space-age plaid, and the interlocking purple, green and white circles of “Luxembourg” suggest venerable mosaics.
Garner is a painter, and his two canvases here are surrealistic juxtapositions of commercial, natural and mythic imagery. The standout is “Pinball Machine,” which incorporate motifs from Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. The jeweled skulls are as sharply defined as the moldings of Garner’s sculptural collages, but the cultural associations are much richer.
Coloring All the Angles On view through Jan. 31 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda. 301-215-7990. www.bethesda.org/bethesda/gallery-b.
Most of the works in “Painting Pain,” Reza Ghajar’s show at Studio 21 in the Monroe Street Market, involve pigment on canvas. But these pictures are frequently completed by something else. One piece incorporates a gas mask, and another — inevitably titled “Reflection” — features a mirror. A gauge substitutes for a figure’s head, and metal bolts represent limbs and fingers. Elsewhere, objects appear only by suggestion: Casts or prints of faces, palms, feet and other body parts embellish some canvases, as do the shapes of stemmed roses, their absent forms outlined in spray paint.
This ghostlike quality suits the themes of Ghajar’s collage paintings, whose titles often refer to violence and oppression. The Tehran-bred artist’s renderings have a childlike looseness and simplicity, darkened by anguished gestures and a palette heavy on bloodlike reds and burnt-earth blacks. The precise location of Ghajar’s pain is unspecified. But when Ghajar pastes an “I Voted” sticker where a mouth should be, he doesn’t seem to be extolling the mechanisms of Western democracy.
Reza Ghajar: Painting Pain On view through Jan. 31 at Studio 21, 716 Monroe St. NE. 202-269-1600. www.danceplace.org/news/
Despite its title, Jameson Magrogan’s show at Transformer doesn’t have anything to do with recipes. “Oil, Then Acrylic” refers to some artists’ belief that oil paints are more refined than acrylic ones, just as canvas is considered superior to burlap. All those ingredients and more are included in Magrogan’s work, which could be described as deconstructed, or semi-constructed.
The Maryland artist hacks, layers and combines, turning paintings into sculptural objects. The intent can be ironic, as when he places a raggedly boxed canvas atop a pedestal, as if it were an elegant marble bust. Canvas is stapled to burlap or stretched across wood-particle board. The focus could be on a part that’s missing, such as the paint-free squiggle of “Green & Blue,” or a line might continue extend off the plane, in the manner of the red stick that extends the simple outline of “How to Build a Trophy Horse: A Painting.” One model for this approach is Robert Rauschenberg. Both he and Magrogan embrace the motley and the ungainly, and neither is inclined to give aesthetic preconceptions a free ride. In such work, possibility is more important than beauty.
Jameson Magrogan: Oil, Then Acrylic On view through Jan. 31 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. www.transformerdc.org.
Instagram and other social-media platforms were among the inspirations for “Portraits of Self as Other,” curator Thomas Drymon writes. Yet photography has a small part in the six-artist show at Studio Gallery. Joren A. Lindholm incorporates photos into his collages, which also employ acrylic paint, and Luke Alexander Atkinson’s little oils are clearly derived from photos. Paul Pietsch does small portraits, too, but even though their size and square format resemble Polaroids, their style is traditional.
Similarly, Laura Elkins works in a 19th-century mode, depicting lone figures in outdoor settings. What gives her work a contemporary twist is its conflation of self-image and celebrity: Elkins’s “self” assumes the guise of either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Michelle Obama. Furthest from an ordinary notion of the self is the largest and most colorful work, Amanda Kates’s “Mesa.” There’s a face at the center of this psychedelic vision, but if this is a picture of an individual, it’s an utterly subjective one.
Portrait of Self as Other On view through Jan. 31 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. www.studiogallerydc.com.
(Note: This review originally said there were five artists in Studio Gallery’s “Portraits of Self as Others.” There are six, including Kanchan Balse.)
Jenkins is a freelance writer.