Cleanly rendered lengths of mostly pastel color overlap, sometimes densely and occasionally not at all, in Bernardo Siles’s recent paintings. The Bolivian-born D.C. artist draws on the harder-edged Washington Color School painters, as well as other geometrically inclined colorists, in his show at Gallery Plan B. The selection also includes a few minimalist paintings on small squares of wood or Masonite, as well as deftly shaded colored-pencil drawings that prove Siles is not entirely averse to curves. But most of the show is devoted to large canvases in which stripes of complementary hues dance on white fields.
Those fields have become more important to the artist’s compositions. The most surprising picture here is “2010.11.01,” whose green and blue bars don’t touch at all; they float apart like stars in an expanding universe. Siles names his paintings after the date he conceived them, not executed them, so the idea for this painting precedes his 2012 Plan B show. Yet the painting seems a significant evolution from his earlier style. Where this selection still includes pieces that evoke such simple clusters as blades of glass or a bundle of sticks, “2010.11.01” has an intergalactic reach.
Bernardo Siles On view through June 8 at Gallery Plan B, 1530 14th St. NW; 202-234-2711; www.galleryplanb.com
The Art of Comic Books
Despite its title, “A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books” displays art from at least two different solar systems. The Mansion at Strathmore exhibition features panels by traditional comic book illustrators, including Bob McLeod (Marvel’s “The New Mutants”) and the late Warren Kremer (such old-school titles as “Richie Rich” and “Casper the Friendly Ghost”). Also included are artists who have updated the form for the Internet, such as Phil and Kaja Foglio (“Girl Genius”) and Kate Beaton (who offers a feminist quick take on “Jane Eyre”). These artists and writers are placed in a context that runs from “The Yellow Kid,” a strip that debuted in the New York World in 1895, to today’s graphic novels.
Worlds apart, at least conceptually, are such contributors as JD Deardourff, Mark Newport and Andrew .Wodzianski. Deardourff, who showed at Hillyer Art Space in January, uses the visual elements of Marvel Comics but banishes human (or superhuman) figures. His work is in part a homage to low-cost commercial printing, although his screenprinting technique is more refined than the four-color process of old “Fantastic Four” books. A display of his method reveals that it employs seven layers and no Ben Day dots.
For Newport and Wodzianski, clothes make the superman. Newport knits costumes for commonplace heroes, using acrylic wool for a baggy, unathletic look. His “Sweatermen” outfits are more suitable for lounging around the house than vaulting past skyscrapers. Wodzianski does meticulous portraits of himself as various “fanboys” in masks and matching T-shirts, showing their devotion to the likes of Iron Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No pen-and-ink for Wodzianski; his hyperrealist pictures are oils, like the work of Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo (if not Donatello).
A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books On view through June 8 at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, Md. 301-581-5109, www.strathmore.org/fineartexhibitions
Three stories above the street, Project 4 Gallery is usually quieter than the nearby intersection of 14th and U NW. At the moment, though, the place is bustling with sounds from multimedia works by four African American artists, all with links to Washington or Philadelphia or both. The show is titled “Wait” but might be called “Wail.”
Participant E. Jane, who also curated the selection, writes that the aim is to encourage overstimulated contemporary viewers to slow down and immerse themselves: “How do we get an audience to wait and enter the work?” It’s a reasonable goal, but one that’s difficult to achieve with video and audio pieces that are themselves in constant flux.
Jane’s contribution employs multiple video screens that include quotations from John Berger and Sylvia Plath, as well as a short scenario in which a robo-voiced man tries to persuade the artist to leave her hiding place under a desk.
Nigerian-born chukwumaa painted brown wrapping paper to make black clouds that hang from the ceiling, with headphones inside them to produce a private aural world.
The most complicated piece is Tiona McClodden’s “Be Alarmed: The Black Americana Epic, Movement I: The Visions,” which includes a video, a babble of voices, scarred photographs of her parents and a handmade shotgun.
A video installation by Larry Cook shows a person standing in urban twilight, holding a burning torch as the Morse code “SOS” repeatedly sounds. No need to wait — the piece demands an urgent response.
Wait On view through June 7 at Project 4 Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, 3rd floor; 202-232-4340, www.project4gallery.com
Local painters Susan Makara and Leslie Nolan are linked by the title “Vivid” — and not much else, save skill — at the Black Rock Center for the Arts. Makara uses classical techniques, including metallic leaf and multilayered glazes, in detailed fabulist tableaux. Also representational but more expressionistic, Nolan’s canvases depict people in bright colors and, seemingly, states of high emotion.
With their winged and horned creatures, Makara’s paintings suggest Renaissance religious and mythological precursors. For imagery, the artist also draws on circus performers, children’s literature (“Cheshire Cat”) and non-Western myths (Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele). Several of the subjects are masked, as if the fanciful getups are guises for everyday people with extraordinary imaginations.
Most of Nolan’s pictures show the head and shoulders of a lone man, his features and their deep shadows painted in black forms, and set off by hot-hued backdrops. While Nolan usually seeks strong contrast between figure and background, both are executed with turbulent brushstrokes. If there’s some pop art in Nolan’s sense of composition, the finished picture is hot, not cool.
Vivid: Susan Makara & Leslie Nolan On view through June 7 at Black Rock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown; 301-528-2260; www.blackrockcenter.org/galleries
Jenkins is a freelance writer.