Ethan Rochmis: Loose Canon
Northern Virginia’s Ethan Rochmis has a variety of artistic interests. “Loose Canon,” his show at Watergate Gallery, includes five bowls hewn from blocks of wood. But most of the space is devoted to two sets of ink drawings, rendered with vibrant colors on either watercolor or photographic paper.
Most of the ink drawings are series of horizontal lines that glimmer across the sheet like sunsets from an alien planet. The lines are sharp, but on the absorbent paper the colors turn soft. The bands of color, while vivid, are most powerful as frames for the untouched white paper, which seems to burn like direct sunlight when divided and framed by the right combinations of yellow and fuchsia.
Occasionally, Rochmis makes the bands vertical, notably for “Coaster #1,” which suggests an airier version of one of Morris Louis’s “Veils.” A set of three “Flags” recalls 1960s artistic gambits. But, unlike Jasper Johns, Rochmis allows the white, blue and red (actually, a meld of red and pink) to dissolve, so that the roughly accurate flag in the first picture becomes, in the third, a jumble of white stars and stripes amid swirling blues and red-pinks.
Liquidity is the key to the artist’s other drawings, the ones on coated photographic paper. In these, the unabsorbed ink retains a gloss that suggests it’s still wet, and large areas of pigment cracked as they dried. The artist uses this technique to depict floral shapes, often in shades of purple. Both approaches are simple, yet executed with exceptional skill and rigor. Rochmis’s distillations of sunlight are suitably dazzling.
Through June 15 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW; 202-338-4488; www.watergategalleryframedesign.com
Like his earlier paintings, Teo Gonzalez’s new ones are built from thousands of cell-like structures, loosely rendered lozenges that might have a dot at the center. But the Spanish-bred Brooklynite’s style has subtly changed, his new show at Contemporary Wing announces. His latest paintings are mostly black and white, with subtle touches of blue, and are arranged to suggest pulsing lines of light. As Gonzalez acknowledges, his current inspiration is “the night sky, those images of deep space that we can witness, thanks to the most advanced telescopes.”
The show includes two smaller 2011 works, made when the artist still pursued an all-over style with a range of dominant colors. Although these pictures don’t seek to draw the eye in a particular direction, the more recent ones are keyed to bands of milky white, subtle blue or deep black. Gonzalez emphasizes these stripes in various ways. He might paint white dots on black, suggesting stars, but sometimes he instead places tiny black blobs atop a black background. The droplets are indistinguishable from a distance, yet add to the sense of gleaming intensity.
Gonzalez is not literally painting the intergalactic sky. He’s still using the same framework as in his earlier work, and the cells and dots are far more densely packed than stars in the actual heavens. But the artist’s recent pictures do have an added sense of depth and drama. They’re still as flat as 1960s color-field paintings, but with a newfound — and quite splendid — willingness to deceive their viewers into seeing a whole universe in a simple pattern
Through June 29 at Contemporary Wing, 1412 14th St. NW; 202-730-5037; www.contemporarywing.com
From a distance, Norway seems a fairly comfortable place. The room in which Kay Gaarder and Linda Lerseth have set their video, currently on view at Transformer, adds to that impression: It’s packed with upper-middle-class belongings: a sofa, DVDs, a liquor cabinet. But Gaarder and Lerseth are apparently not at home with such stuff. The women, who call themselves Donkey and Punch, spend a half-hour systematically ripping, breaking and smashing everything they’ve assembled. The resulting video, “Rogue Room,” is like one of Michael Haneke’s existential slasher flicks, but without the burden of plot.
Donkey and Punch’s assault is part of a show titled “Terminators,” which Transformer assembled with No Place, an Oslo arts collective. The Norwegian group seems to specialize in deconstruction, but mostly of a less violent sort than Donkey and Punch’s. Tor Jorgen van Eijk’s “Tranquil in RGB” takes video of what seems to be a seaside setting — put on the headphones and you’ll hear gulls and bells — and subjects it to extreme degradation that reduces the image to just patches of red, green and blue. Ole Martin Lund Bo’s “Distilled Portrait of a Woman Reading the Paper” is a blank canvas with a pileup of oil paint on one side. The whole picture, it seems, has been scraped into one thick patch of pigment.
The high priests of high art can be sanctimonious, and a little blasphemy is always good for, the soul. But “Terminators,” which also includes a few conventional examples of contemporary painting and sculpture, is not going to shake the National Gallery’s foundations, actual or conceptual. A century after Dada, smashing things up seems a rather quaint strategy.
Through June 22 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW; 202-483-1102; www.transformerdc.org
In nature, uncountable forces work to create and transform. For “Fathom,” at Waverly Street Gallery, there were only two: ceramicist Liz Lescault and glassmaker Alison Sigethy. Together, they’ve crafted elegant pieces that evoke fungi, eels, hives and other soft, sinuous forms, all fashioned in hard, glistening clay and glass. Like the natural world viewed in extreme close-up, the sculpture appears to be both everyday and exotic.
Most often, it appears, Lescault creates the bulk of the piece, and Sigethy adds translucent accents: lacy sea-nettle circles that cling to the ceramic curves, or jellyfish tendrils that emerge from the recesses of simulated rock or shell. Sometimes, the glass is in delicate shades of pink, but occasionally can be squid-ink black. While most of the pieces evoke water worlds, a few suggest details from a man-made rain forest, where glass mushrooms grow on kiln-fired wood.
The show also includes items the artists made individually, some of which are more literal. Sigethy uses real wood and real water in her solo creations, and fills a wall with 10 realistically contoured glass perch. Alone, Lescault produces biomorphic works that are much like her collaborations with Sigethy, with complex shapes and shimmering metallic glazes. They’re expressive on their own, but Sigethy’s glassy additions make for even richer compositions.
Through June 8 at Waverly Street Gallery, 4600 East West Hwy., Bethesda; 301-951-9441; www.waverlystreetgallery.com
Mark Jenkins is a freelance writer.