Stripped to basic shapes and emphasizing pastel hues, Gennady Zubkov’s paintings evoke sunny, rural locales. That impression is not entirely wrong: The canvases in “Form + Color” include stylized views of Italy and California. But Zubkov works in St. Petersburg. One of the seemingly balmiest of these pictures, “Printemps,” depicts flowers that bloom near the Arctic Circle.
Zubkov was born in 1940, which means he faced other travails besides Russian winters. He began as an heir to the Suprematist movement, and — according to Galerie Blue Square owner Dianne Beal — survived the dictates of Socialist Realism in part because of a job as an artist-designer at a botanical garden. No wonder he’s fond of flowers.
Beal began dealing Russian art in Paris and recently relocated her gallery to a townhouse in upper Georgetown, where she alternates shows with Robert Brown and Chris Neptune. “Form + Color,” Beal’s first exhibition in the new space, highlights Zubkov’s recent output. But the show reaches back about 40 years for “Carrying Water,” a canvas begun in 1967; it plainly shows the influence of Kazimir Malevich, the Russian-Polish artist who issued Suprematism’s manifesto almost a century ago.
Zubkov’s elementary shapes, often rendered as blocks of loosely painted color, recall Malevich and other early-20th-century European painters. They also suggest older precedents, including stained-glass windows and Russian icons. “Village Figures,” a 1980 oil, is painted on burlap to partake of Slavic rusticity. But Zubkov’s current work seems more in the spirit of Matisse, with a Mediterranean palette that belies the painter’s Baltic home.
This show includes several diptychs and triptychs, which Beal says reflect the small size of Zubkov’s studio. He doesn’t have room to work on a grand scale. The format may be accidental, but it suits such recent paintings as “Caldera, di Reno,” which chop simple scenes into even simpler components. Dividing such landscapes into multiple panels isn’t radically disruptive, but it does nicely complicate pictures that can seem a little too streamlined.
Which came first, the strawberry or the egg? Both are among the subjects of “Ripe Art,” an exhibition of elegant photographs and related pieces by local graphic artists Maureen Berg and Kristen Dill. Berg portrays strawberries, mushrooms and other edibles, while Dill depicts chicks, flowers and leaves. The two artists’ subjects often overlap, notably in Dill’s shot of some strawberries in a bird’s nest, as if about to hatch.
Such gently surreal juxtapositions are central to the duo’s work, which often turns on another contrast: the one between industrial-chic photography and the forms, colors and mutability of natural objects. The large-format photos pose plants (and occasionally animals) in front of blank backdrops, as if they’re celebrities sitting for some upscale glossy. It’s as if earth artist Andy Goldsworthy took a Madison Avenue gig.
Dill makes infrared black-and-white images of forests and gardens, whose areas of hot light provide a slightly unreal vibe. Smaller photos and photo collages show dried flowers and rotted vegetables, fixed permanently in a state of decay. Both photographers print their images on canvas, which adds a bit of homespun texture. Dill goes further, pulling nature out of the frame for ikebana-like sculptural pieces (one made of maple stems, dried turnip and Oregon moss) and stitching a curtain of oak and beech leaves. She also puts some dried foliage under glass — actually, plastic — by placing it in clear globes that hang from the ceiling.
Berg offers some portraits of women and girls, many of them dancers. These pictures’ naturalism sets them apart from the other works, which isolate organic things from their ordinary context. Whether a pair of shoes covered in birch leaves or a broken robin’s egg rendered austere and outsize, Berg and Dill’s work asserts its command over nature. Yet their images wouldn’t be as evocative if they didn’t hint at processes that are beyond human control.
“Ripe Art” is at 410 GooDBuddY, an exhibition space hosted (but not curated) by Weibenson and Dorman Architects. The show is open by appointment, but the artists will host a closing reception from 10 a.m. to noon on Dec. 9.
The principal ingredients in Amy Genser’s collages are small spirals of rolled paper, which are clustered on painted backdrops of canvas or handmade paper. Some of the smaller pieces in her “Coiled Terrain” exhibition, at Long View Gallery, arrange the paper ovoids geometrically in abstract compositions. Yet, as the show’s title indicates, Genser doesn’t avoid suggestions of nature — especially water. She often paints the settings in shades of oceanic blue and arrays the tightly curled rolls to evoke bubbles, reefs and tide pools. Other organic motifs include beehives and dripstone cave formations.
The simpler pieces, including a suite of eight “Black and White” works in which the “white” is sort of beige, are pure form. They could be anything, from maki sushi to, well, twists of paper. The largest works embody their titles, which include “Great Barrier” and “Midnight Cavern,” and break the frame by including rolls that protrude from the sides as well as the front of the painted canvas. Complex, sinuous patterns are central to Genser’s work, which reproduces well in photographs. But the more three-dimensional it is, the closer Genser’s art comes to its natural inspiration, whose beauty is fundamentally unruly.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Wednesday at Galerie Blue Square, 1662 33rd St. NW. 202-957-1401. www.galeriebluesquare.com.
on view through Dec. 9 at 410 GooDBuddY, 410 Florida Ave. NW. www.facebook.com/pages/410-GooDBuddY/133495776715587.
on view through Dec. 11 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. www.longviewgallerydc.com.