The simplest paintings in Mason Saltarrelli’s “Pages from the Neon Bible,” at Randall Scott Projects, contrast two elementary forms in childlike compositions. They’re rendered in oil on canvas, yet suggest crayon on construction paper. But the New York artist’s work can get a lot more complicated, in color and texture if not its basic forms.
Named after a book by fellow New Orleans native John Kennedy Toole, “Neon Bible” arrays and rearrays motifs, some of them with religious significance. The show includes two found-object assemblages, one of which features a bottle of holy water. The meaning of such references is, the artist writes, “open-ended.” Saltarrelli’s interest in jazz improvisation is probably more significant than his use of Catholic and Hopi iconography.
Like many contemporary artists, Saltarrelli combines drawing and painting, using pencil, gouache and spray paint as well as oils. He works on paper that’s weathered and stained, cut and pasted back together. Such titles as “Gold Coat Frosty Freeze Staying Warm” may not describe the pictures to which they’re attached, but they do give a sense of the artist’s outlook and strategy. Saltarrelli is intuitive, unpredictable and messy, but sometimes his messes look exactly right.
On view through March 29 at Randall Scott Projects, 1326 H St. NE, 2nd Fl.; 202-396-0300; randallscottprojects.com
Although the prints on display in Adamson Gallery’s “Recent Editions” show are flawless, many of the originals make artful use of imperfection. Chuck Close’s recent portraits layer blobs of watercolor to create the image, which emerges clearly from the ambiguity. “Kate,” one in a long line of Close’s depictions of model Kate Moss, appears to be black and white, but pastel colors peek from beneath the gray squares.
Robert Longo’s recent works could be called portraits, although they’re symbolic rather than specific. “Burqa” shows a woman’s eyes through a slit in black fabric; in “Untitled (Iceman-X),” a pilot’s helmet reflects the heavens rather than revealing a face. Gary Simmons plucks urban signs from their context and smears their edges, so they appear to be melting or burning. His celebrity subject is the Hollywood sign, rendered in white on fiery red.
Marc Babej’s “Mask of Perfection” series offers a different perspective on glamour. The German-born New Yorker photographs attractive young women, their faces X-marked to indicate where a plastic surgeon might nip or tuck. Whether seen as comic or ominous, these pictures challenge the visual ideals of both the fashion and the art industries.
On view through March 29 at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW, Suite 301; 202-232-0707; adamsongallery.com
Stockholm photographer Maria Friberg is known for portraying the society of men. Her staged tableaux often show guys in everyday business suits in incongruous situations, suggesting the hidden turmoil of maintaining social status. But the stars of her new photographic series are mostly boys who relate to one another, if at all, through electronic devices. In “between solitude and belonging,” at Connersmith, the kids sit in grand, empty interiors, gazing at laptops and smartphones. In two vignettes, a boy sits near, but not facing or acknowledging, a man.
Friberg trained as a painter, an experience that survives in her use of large-format prints and dramatic lighting; her pictures suggest Rembrandt more than Diane Arbus. In these photos, the glow of electronic screens is upstaged by the sunlight that floods though cathedral-style windows and, in “Duration 1,” pools in a ballroom-like expanse.
In previous series, Friberg has shown men crammed into spaces; in one of those images, on display here, a guy is wedged among books. The openness of her new photographs is an interesting change. They may depict isolation, but they also imply possibility.
On view through March 29 at Connersmith, 1358 Florida Ave. NE; 202-588-8750, connersmith.us.com
Local sculptor Pamela Soldwedel endows stone and metal with sinuous curves and diverse textures, sometimes in a single piece. The centerpiece of “Insights,” her current Watergate Gallery show, is a granite curbstone she discovered as it was being discarded by the city of Alexandria. The repurposed slab now features a meandering outline and a rough finish, punctuated by star and teardrop shapes that are polished to a contrasting sheen. Also included is a sculpture that showcases one of Soldwedel’s trademark techniques: inserting slivers of aluminum between layers of marble. Like all of her work, “Sedna” celebrates the natural qualities of the material, but also Soldwedel’s ability to command them.
The sculptures are on display with photographs by Richard D. Barrett, Soldwedel’s husband. Most are Potomac riverscapes from within a few blocks of the gallery, but the most striking one was made on the Baltic. Nearly abstract, the picture dissolves a picture of a boat’s hull above a watery oil slick into saturated blues and shimmering whites.
On view through March 29 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW; 202-338-4488; watergategalleryframedesign.com
Among the mysteries of printmaking is the way hard-surfaced plates yield soft textures. Nina Muys’s intaglio prints of fruits, flowers and nature scenes, shown in “New Life” at Washington Printmakers Gallery, boast delicate and fluid hues that resemble those of aquatints or watercolors. This results from a process she developed, in which the image is incised not into metal but Plexiglas. To demonstrate the stylistic link, she’s showing some prints next to watercolor-embellished drawings of the same vista.
Muys is an Austrian-born artist who teaches at a Montgomery County elementary school — some of her students’ work is also on display — and was inspired by the recent birth of a granddaughter. Rather than baby pictures, she has made prints of nested eggs, budding blooms and other harbingers of spring, all in vernal colors. The subjects are simple, and presented in elementary compositions. But the colors are rich and moist, as if from a brush rather than a plastic matrix.
On view through March 30 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 8230 Georgia Ave., 2nd Fl., Silver Spring, Md.; 301-273-3660; washingtonprintmakers.com
Jenkins is a freelance writer.