Robert Brown Gallery opened in 1978 in New York and moved to Washington three years later. It’s the D.C. run that the space is marking with “Robert Brown Celebrates the First 30 Years,” a show that’s impressive in range and quality. It includes work by more than a dozen artists, most of whom Brown has represented for years.
Like the other two galleries that alternate shows in the shared upper-Georgetown townhouse, Robert Brown often features works on paper by internationally known artists. This exhibition includes prints by R.B. Kitaj, William Kentridge, Mel Bochner and Oleg Kudryashov, among others. It also includes a handsome, large charcoal drawing of grouped cone shapes, “Layer on Layer,” by British earth artist David Nash. In addition, there are a few paintings, some mixed-media work, several sculptures and a video. (Grouped separately are a selection of ancient Chinese sculptures and pottery and some Chinese advertising posters from the 1930s.)
Much of the work has a strong graphic quality, with clean lines and direct images, sometimes incorporating everyday printed objects. Two Kitaj prints are derived from old book covers, which probably looked ordinary in their time but now have a quaint appeal. Bochner’s “Scoundrel” and “Liar” are handwritten lists of synonyms for their titles, jottings made powerful by their size and being printed in reverse (white on black). Two gouaches by Joseph Solman are painted on facsimiles of newspaper pages. Kentridge’s contributions include a landscape drawn in pencil and charcoal on a 1913 ledger from a mining company, the sort of firm that played a crucial (and controversial) part in his homeland, South Africa.
Kudryashov, who shared a show with Kentridge at the Kreeger Museum in 2009, is represented mostly by multi-layered paper constructions, framed within boxes. They’re prints yet also sculptural. Even Will Clift’s wooden sculptures are, in a sense, drawings; such pieces as “Enclosing Form, Round” and “Three Simple Curves” are swooping lines in space.
One of the larger pieces is Deborah Bell’s “Memo Scaffolding of Thoughts,” a mixed-media work that incorporates visual motifs from “Memo,” a short film made by Bell, Kentridge and Robert Hodgins. The short (which can be seen at the gallery) combines old-fashioned stop-action animation and surrealist themes in a manner that seems both classic and modern. That’s characteristic of this elegant show.
Some 25 blocks east, Long View Gallery is showing work that has much in common with Kentridge’s and Nash’s. Eve Stockton is a printmaker who uses a traditional form, wood block, but on an usually large scale. Inspired in part by visits to Nova Scotia, the Connecticut artist crafts views of nature, both macro and micro. Her painstaking technique and some visual motifs, such as waves and branches, recall great Japanese printmakers such as Hokusai (the subject of a recent Sackler Gallery exhibition). But Stockton doesn’t emulate her Japanese precursors’ dramatic compositions, preferring all-over designs that feature repeated forms. She often focuses on modest objects, such as seed pods, or depicts cellular patterns that could represent nature in extreme closeup. If Stockton were to take Mount Fuji as a subject, she’d probably fix on its tiniest details.
The show includes examples of the three-foot-square wood blocks Stockton carves to print the images. These are unusually large, but the artist increases her big pictures’ impact even more by grouping them in ensembles. The sets of prints often contrast two sets of motifs or subtly vary the colors while maintaining the same basic form. (She occasionally adds watercolor hues to vary the palette and emphasize certain details.) Seeing these repeated images and subtle variations, the viewer may think of pop art. But Stockton is inspired by a force even more powerful than Andy Warhol.
As a fitness instructor for older people, Susan Feller must pay attention to the entire body. As an artist, however, she’s drawn to hands. Her “Holding Patterns” takes photographs of age-worn fingers, generally clasped together, as the focal point for otherwise abstract compositions. She works in several media, but the standouts in her Touchstone Gallery show are collaged paintings; they combine digital photos with loosely drawn patterns, mostly circles, and textured fields of encaustic pigment, a mix of oil paint and wax. (There’s also a sequence of photos of hands that shows them in their original context, mostly folded in laps.) Feller tends toward earthen and metallic shades, which complement the grayish pinks of the flesh.
As the show’s title suggests, the hands can serve as metaphors for the passage of time. But they can be taken purely as visual devices. Whether at the center or off to one side, the hands draw the eye into compositions whose complex, weathered colors then hold it.
At first glance, there might not seem to be anything classical about Tom Block’s style. The densely layered work in his “Jiwar,” at the Fridge, combines painting, collage and child-like drawing to suggest an urban wall layered with graffiti and tattered old posters. But Block says that the two pieces — which also served as backdrops for a production of his play, “White Noise” — draw on the thought of 13th-century mystic Sufi Farid ad-Din Attar and the imagery of 16th-century painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel.
While the large, multi-panel works are not primarily figurative, their chaos and complexity do suggest the hellish torments Bosch depicted. Yet where such painters derived their pictures from the Bible, Block throws anything and everything into his work. The artist, who will lead a drawing and collage workshop at 2 p.m. on Sunday, reflects a world (or an existence) that’s unstable and uncentered.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through July 14 at Robert Brown Gallery, 1662 33rd St. NW; 202-338-0353; www.robertbrowngallery.com .
on view through July 15 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW; 202-232-4788; www.longviewgallery.com .
on view through Sunday at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW; 202-347-2787; www.touchstonegallery.com .
on view through Sunday at the Fridge, 5161 / 2 Eighth St. SE (rear); 202-664-5151; www.thefridgedc.com .