Works on paper aren’t as sedate as they once were, Marsha Mateyka Gallery’s “On Paper” demonstrates. This eight-artist survey includes some conventional prints and drawings but also work by upstarts who burn patterns into paper, draw with hot glue or cut, fold and paint tar paper.
Like most Mateyka group shows, this one includes vintage work by Gene Davis and Sam Gilliam. Davis’s 1981 “Sky Code” is an intricate drawing that appears to represent a cryptographic method; Gilliam’s 1996 “As Kids Go” is an exuberant monoprint, individualized with collaged additions. Athena Tacha, another regular, contributes “S-Strings,” a glowing orb of silver hot-glue strands on a black backdrop.
Intricate Howard Hodgkin prints from the 1970s and ’80s, made with a variety of techniques, contrast meticulous line work with freehand coloring. The largest, the black-and-white “Two to Go,” is a sort of rectangular spiral, softened with gouache in four shades of gray.
Even more architectural are Sheila Rotner’s three “Root Rectangles,” constructions of tar paper, sand, rivets and paint. They seem to have been made out of materials from a construction site and suggest models for extreme-angled buildings. The structures could be erected next to the swooping ziggurat depicted in “Probability Pyramid,” a lithograph by eco-installation artist Agnes Denes.
Denes’s image has an organic quality that’s even more pronounced in Andrea Way’s “Twelve Pools,” a silkscreen derived from the splashes that result when droplets of blue water hit small puddles. Also working from the small gesture to a larger design, Kathleen Kucka scorches hundreds of concentric marks into paper, then adds clouds of soft color with oil sticks. This approach, too, unifies the geometric and the natural. The burn holes in one of her elegant pieces follow a nearly regular orbit, but in another, the voids pirouette around a central point like a flock of birds.
On Paper: Howard Hodgkin, Sam Gilliam, Gene Davis, Sheila Rotner, Andrea Way, Athena Tacha, Agnes Denes, Kathleen Kucka On view through Jan. 23 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW. 202-328-0088. marshamateykagallery.com.
Veteran D.C. painter John Blee calls his recent paintings “The Orchard Series,” a reference to a Rainer Maria Rilke poem that exclaims “we want to ripen.” Another influence on the color-field abstractions, at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, is a childhood spent mostly in India. The subcontinent’s heat radiates from Blee canvases that favor red and orange.
The paintings feature squares and rectangles, loosely and thickly rendered, on expanses of a dominant color. The juxtapositions range from subtle to brash, as when a lime-green block infiltrates the mostly scarlet “Anton’s Orchard.” One thing these pictures don’t evoke literally is an orchard, with its splashes of fruit colors against a leaf-green backdrop. That would be too pastoral for Blee, whose compositions have an urban energy.
Also at Cross MacKenzie, Nicole Gunning is showing the next generation of ceramic nudes — life-size, but headless and armless — modeled on her own body. There’s one example of the previous iteration, whose earthy tones suggest something ancient. But “The Nickie Warriors” are in such shiny hues as aqua and violet, and sometimes covered in syrup-thick glazes. The local artist doesn’t idealize the female form, and her technique also celebrates imperfection: The figures slump in various ways, and a few have conspicuous cracks. These mock relics may be brand-new, but they didn’t come off an assembly line.
John Blee: The Orchard Series and Nicole Gunning: The Nickie Warriors On view through Jan. 28 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
To make the 26 multilayered assemblages in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Suzanne Stryk roved from the urbanized D.C. suburbs to the state’s rural southwestern edge (where she lives). Her traveling companion? Thomas Jefferson, whose 1785 book of the same title inspired the Athenaeum show.
Although they utilize Mylar and Google Earth, these 3-D collages do have an 18th-century feel. They suggest curiosity cabinets and the childhood of natural science, when men boyishly collected bones, leaves, feathers and the like. Stryk doesn’t feign innocence of contemporary knowledge, though. Her “How the Past Returns” features a bay-shaped black blot and text from a booklet titled “Climate Change and the Chesapeake Bay.”
The pieces are built atop topographical maps and include animal specimens — more often drawn than actual — and portraits of Jefferson, adapted from ones by Raphaelle or Rembrandt Peale. “Maroon (Swamp Diary)” features text about the Great Dismal Swamp from George Washington’s diary and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Dred,” a novel in which escaped slaves hide in the bog.
The pieces reward close inspection but are too crowded with images and information to have much immediate impact. They’re part Jefferson, part real-world hypertext documents.
Notes on the State of Virginia: Suzanne Stryk On view through Jan. 31 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. 703-548-0035. nvfaa.org.
“History Painting for a Small Town,” Judy Southerland’s show at Studio Gallery, began with text the local artist stenciled on a canvas, Pop Art-style. The paragraph summarizes the way people lived in villages a few generations ago, when most work was agricultural and the cutting-edge technology was the internal-combustion energy. What Southerland set out to explore, however, was not the substance of history painting, but its literal ingredients.
Wooden constructions suggest the material of canvas frames and stretchers, but deconstructed into sculpture. More than a dozen medium-size pieces take the oval shape once common for portraits but don’t depict the human form. Instead they showcase fabric, paper and wood; one simulates a page of notebook paper, precise except that it’s not rectangular. The closest Southerland comes to conventional picture-making is a series of pattern drawings made of blocks of dotted color. Here, the parts cohere rather than fly apart.
Judy Southerland: History Painting for a Small Town On view through Jan. 30 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. studiogallerydc.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.