Three artists share their personal experiences in adjacent rooms at Civilian Art Projects, yet those experiences are quite different.
The most obviously autobiographical show is Shamus Ian Fatzinger’s “Personal Frontier,” a selection of scenes from the local photographer’s New Mexico childhood. (Fatzinger works for the Fairfax County Times, which is owned by this newspaper.) Discovered in a cardboard box years after they were made, the somewhat-decayed color negatives open a portal to Fatzinger’s memories of dirt bikes and desert excursions. The splotched, somewhat-faded snapshots are collective art and shared history, treated as disposable in an era when making images was easy (although not as easy as it today). The photographs are specific, especially for the people who recognize themselves in them, but they’re also eerily anonymous.
Bridget Sue Lambert takes a more detached, and miniaturized, approach to the private realm in “Bedrooms,” a series of staged photographs. Rendered with exquisite detail, these images show boudoirs in a state of disarray that could be post-coital. Maybe the occupants are just sloppy, but romance is in the air, since the pictures have titles — “It Let Me Know I Could Love Again,” “We Obviously Had Something Very Real” — derived from remarks made on TV dating shows. If that isn’t alienating enough, the bedrooms are all in dollhouses, carefully decorated with tiny bottles, cans, shoes, bras, handcuffs and Bibles. Toying further with scale, Lambert enlarges some of the photos dramatically, emphasizing their crispness and their strangeness. The erotic aftermath Lambert depicts may be messily real, but it’s also — like “The Bachelorette” — utterly contrived.
In the small, darkened room between the two other galleries, D.C. “microsound” artist Richard Chartier offers a subjective tour that’s entirely aural. “Interior Field” was recorded largely (although not exclusively) in the McMillan Reservoir’s sand-filtration facility during a rainstorm. The humming, whooshing, dripping, 65-minute composition is, Chartier writes, “a transposition of location, focus, and experience itself.” Apprehending such a piece is tricky, because most people are used to music that’s more organized, assertive and sweetened. But “Interior Field” can be refreshing, and even intoxicating. Looking through someone else’s eyes has almost becomes routine; listening through someone else’s ears is still unexpected.
A room-filling installation that seems to grow out of a series of black-and-white drawings and water-colored paintings, Mei Mei Chang’s “Mnemonic Fragmentation” is more assured than the work she showed last year at Honfleur Gallery. Her current exhibition, at Visarts at Rockville’s Gibbs Street Gallery, also attempts to expand painting and drawing into a third dimension. Lines and shapes, rendered in thread, tape or plastic tubes, escape the 2-D plane and continue on the wall or floor. But these stray gestures also seem to lead back to the drawings and paintings so that the overall suite feels as unified as it does fractured.
Chang suggests that she’s emulating the workings of the human brain, calling her art “topographical maps of the mind” and “a place for the mind to move without limits.” Like other artistic attempts to think out loud, Chang’s work is nowhere near as complex as cogitation. But the way the ideas bounce from one piece to the next, and from one plane to another, does make this installation something of a hypertext document.
Collagist David Alfuth also explodes the one-dimensional, although a little more tidily than Chang. To make the pieces in “A 3D Collage the Adventure,” he took reproductions of old engravings, cut and folded them and then placed the finished work inside plastic display boxes. The results suggest stage pageants, silent-film epics, M.C. Escher perspective-twisters and architectural pop-up books, especially when the images are symmetrical, as in the case of “Sometimes you have to look at the problem from many angles to solve it.” (The artist has a weakness for long, jokey titles.) A few of the pieces at Touchstone Gallery are inside cubes that dangles from the ceiling, adding gentle motion to Alfuth’s range of canny 3-D gambits.
For several decades after it was established in 1945, the American University painting program was sufficiently distinctive and influential that its teachers and leading students were said to constitute a scene of their own. At Marin-Price Galleries, “The A.U. School: Revisited” presents small canvases by three A.U. exemplars: Jack Boul, Robert D’Arista and Lee Newman. The first two were born in the late 1920s in New York, while Newman arrived a generation later and grew up in Alexandria. But Boul is the odd man out here, with his emphasis on everyday rustic landscapes rendered with a simplicity that borders on the naive.
D’Arista and Newman are also figurative painters, but they daub more freely and concentrate on urban and interior scenes. Both depicted their own studios and their mundane contents, including Newman’s portrait of a sliced jelly donut and D’Arista’s “White Jar.” The latter, an elegant, muted-color study in white, dark gray and milk-chocolate brown, shows that focusing on a small thing can yield a big artistic payoff.
Five artists, unlinked by subject or style, are represented in Gallery plan b’sshow, “S.C.A.M.P.” (The name comes from the participants’ initials.) The most striking work is by Aster da Fonseca, a Brazil-bred Washington painter. His “Silver Series” presents curving yellow, orange and red forms on silver backgrounds, the immediate colors complementing the enigmatic forms. A gallery note reports that the artist is inspired by both architecture and the human body, but the shapes also suggest fruits or gourds. Whatever the source of the contours, the contrast between organic and metallic is intriguing, and the colors arresting.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through July 28 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 Seventh St. NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com .
on view through Aug. 10 at Gibbs Street Gallery, Visarts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-315-8200, www.visartscenter.org.
on view through July 29 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW; 202-347-2787; www.touchstonegallery.com .
on view through July 27 at Marin-Price Galleries, 7022 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-718-0622;
on view through Sunday at Gallery plan b, 1530 14th St. NW; 202-234-2711; www.galleryplanb.com .