Perhaps art, craft, science and religion are different manifestations of the same fundamental thing. That’s how it seems in the multimedia work of Shanthi Chandrasekar, which is derived from Hinduism, theoretical physics and family history. The artist’s District of Columbia Arts Center show, “Journeys,” consists mostly of abstract paintings, but also includes sculpture, drawings, photographs, prints, videos and a scratchy audio piece. (It’s the sound of her pencil on paper.)
A Tamil Nadu native who now lives in the Maryland suburbs, Chandrasekar reveals a heady worldview in her titles. “Asymptotic Journeys - Wormhole” refers to her study of physics, while “Chakra” (wheel or turning) and “Karma” (action or cause) are terms from Indian philosophy and spirituality. Yet most of these pieces are visually accessible, employing such universal motifs as circles (notably in the series titled “Moksha,” the release of the soul from the cycle of life). And the artist’s outlook is intuitive and playful. Inspection of the seemingly all-black “Red Dots” shows one of the painted-over circles is still red around one edge. “It didn’t want to be covered,” said Chandrasekar with a smile.
If some pictures suggest the fabric of the universe, others just look like fabric. Until the generation before hers, Chandrasekar’s forebears were weavers, a profession she salutes with a video montage of a working loom. The patterns in her work also reflect the influence of kolam, the chalk and rice-flour drawings South Indian women execute on the ground in front of their homes to welcome visitors. The Chandrasekar piece titled “Kolam” is actually a 3-D construction, made of thread and foam atop a rectangular canvas.
Some kolams are more systematic than others, but at their most mathematical, the patterns relate to computer algorithms — another way that science, tradition and instinct converge. With their repeated forms and all-over designs, many of Chandrasekar’s paintings and drawings are little universes for the eye to wander. Yet the artist’s personality emerges, whether directly or vicariously. “Journeys” is both cosmic and autobiographical.
on view through Feb. 10 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW; 202-462-7833; www.dcartscenter.org.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of George Hemphill’s gallery, Hemphill Fine Arts. And it’s been two decades since Steven Cushner stopped making rounded-edge canvases. Those two histories overlap in “Steven Cushner: The Shaped Paintings, 1991-1993,” a Hemphill show that doesn’t seem backward-gazing. That might be because only one of the eight paintings (which are joined by two drawings) has ever been exhibited before. But it’s also because Cushner’s early-’90s work has a vigor that hasn’t dissipated.
Mostly executed in black or blue-black on white, the pictures use motifs — orbs, arcs, crescents — that lend themselves to curvilinear formats. Although there are some solid areas, Cushner more often defines forms with multiple, roughly parallel lines. This might sound rigidly geometric, and the D.C. painter does cite the influence of Frank Stella’s austere, late-’50s pinstripe compositions. But Cushner lets the diluted acrylic pigment drip, which provides both spontaneity and a vertical contrast to the lines, whose orientation tends toward the horizontal. In addition, he paints the basic design, paints over it and then paints it again, adding grit and depth.
Where Cushner’s recent drawings and paintings are colorful, these pictures are mostly monochromatic; only “Bola” indulges in red, and then as a solo act. Yet the paintings do suggest the Washington Color School, both in their exaltation of the drip and their editing of images. Like Morris Louis, Cushner would paint first and format later; the canvases were trimmed and framed into ovoid shapes to complement their bowed lines. These days, the artist works within rectangular formats but is still drawn to curvy figures. If these paintings were a detour, they didn’t take Cushner very far out of his way.
on view through March 9 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-234-5601; www.hemphillfinearts.com.
Among its various metaphorical roles, the Gothic cathedral suggests the human frame, supported by a stone skeleton. The August 2011 earthquake left the Washington National Cathedral with some cracked ribs, which are clearly visible in Colin Winterbottom’s recent photographs. “Gothic Resilience,” at Long View Gallery, includes images of damage, as well as ones that show the building’s solidity. All are part of an ongoing project to document the cathedral’s restoration, which will continue for years.
Winterbottom, who will discuss these photos at the gallery at 1 pm. Feb. 9, has assembled a large portfolio of black-and-white pictures, often sepia-toned, of the city’s grand edifices. He often goes topside to capture vistas that highlight both sky-scraping architectural features and the dramatic light and clouds that frame them. He employs extreme angles and fisheye lenses, which distort the actual view to offer a true sense of a structure’s grace and power. His recent cathedral photos reveal cracks and breaks, scaffolding erected for repairs and an engineer who’s barely visible amid the gargoyles. But they also display sinuous patterns — of stone, shadow or sunlight — in which heavy stone turns ethereal.
on view through Feb. 10 at Long View Gallery, 1234 9th St. NW; 202-232-4788; www.longviewgallery.com.
Five artists, four of them local, interact with a standard D.C. rowhouse interior in “Unfettered,” the current show at Delicious Spectacle. Nikki Painter and Mei Mei Chang’s intricate installations show their customary motifs: The former mixes rectilinear and organic forms, with lots of day-glo colors; the latter contrasts the abstract and the architectonic, frequently (but not always) in black and shades of gray. Mariah Anne Johnson, who often works with fabric, takes an unusually aggressive tack; in her piece, brightly colored sheets overrun and deform the front room’s Venetian blinds.
Working with tape, paint and small boxes, Randall Lear attaches objects to the wall; they look as if they ought to be functional, yet clearly aren’t. Eric Lundquist is the odd artist out: The Brooklyn resident uses found objects, but his pieces don’t directly engage the space. In “Never Put Together,” slabs of wooden cabinetry emerge from a drywall shell. The seven-foot-high sculpture has its absurd aspects — a vintage audio turntable is perched on top — but also functions as metaphor for birth and transfiguration.
on view through next Friday at Delicious Spectacle, 1366 Quincy St. NW; deliciousspectacle.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.