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In the galleries: Every picture tells a story, but it’s up to viewers to provide the plot

An untitled work by Lely Constantinople, on view at Civilian Art Projects. (Lely Constantinople/Civilian Art Projects)

Most of the photographs in Lely Constantinople’s “Start With This” are gelatin silver prints, endowed with the rich blacks and deep shadows that characterized art photography before color film and digital imaging were admitted to the canon. They’re on display at Civilian Art Projects, furnished for this show as a homey sitting room with tables and upholstered chairs. Yet there is much that is untraditional here.

For one thing, only a few prints are on the walls. More than 100 are stacked around the room, where they can be picked up, inspected, reshuffled and put down someplace else. Constantinople, a lifelong Washingtonian, wanted visitors to have a less formal, more intimate experience.

Most photos presented this way have a personal relationship to the people who handle them. These almost certainly don’t, and Constantinople intentionally provides no information on the subjects or locations. Browsers can’t even cultivate a vicarious connection to the unexplained, documentary-style vignettes. The images are “a found archive, allowing for new narratives and connections,” according to the photographer’s statement. Here are the pictures. Viewers can write the stories they might tell.

Distinctively, Constantinople contact-printed the large-format negatives inside a circle of light that became a pool of black when the process was completed. The stark results complement the show’s six wall-mounted prints, made by heliogravure, the world’s oldest photo method. The pictures capture specific moments, yet they feel detached from time.

Lely Constantinople: Start With This Through June 2 at Civilian Art Projects, 4718 14th St. NW. 202-607-3804.

Theory of Color

Technically, the “Theory of Color” at Artist’s Proof is the second half of a two-part show of local and international abstract artists. The selection spotlights bright hues, following a run of all-white work. But some of the pieces from the previous grouping are still on display, so both modes coexist.

Of the part-two artists, most evoke nature. Robert Schoenfeld’s overlapping swaths of color dotted with gold grains suggest flower bouquets, as well as Morris Louis canvases. Shar Coulson’s paintings employ more muted shades and subtle contrasts among areas of opaque, watery and seemingly abraded pigment. Kikuko Morimoto works with literal blocks of color, collaging torn sheets of single-hue paper. Simplest yet rich with detail are Craig Cahoon’s bisected fields, pitting red against orange or black vs. lime. The colors are bold but applied in streaks, which gives them texture and even a sense of movement.

Of the colorless works still on exhibit, the most striking are Maja Thommen’s bas reliefs, made of fiber resin. They conjure shapes of water, including waves, ripple and bubbles. That the material is entirely white frees the Swiss artist to focus purely on form, light and shadow.

Theory of Color: Color and Intent in Abstraction Through June 3 at Artist’s Proof, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202 803 2782.

Artemis Herber

Baltimore artist Artemis Herber paints on large pieces of found cardboard, integrating the corrugated material’s rips, holes and other flaws into her finished work. The strategy usually gives Herber’s pictures a sculptural quality, but that’s de-emphasized in “Erratic Landscapes.” In the MPA at Chain Bridge Gallery show, the artist almost metamorphoses into a pure painter.

A close look reveals that the cardboard surfaces are still pitted and torn, which suits Herber’s latest subjects: volcanic scenes in the colors of earth, stone and magma. In pictures such as “Polyphemus — After Casting Rocks,” whose centerpiece is a black cave-in, both the landscape and the technique are tectonic and accretive.

The reference to ancient Greek mythology is typical of Herber’s titles. Yet when making this series, the artist was thinking of contemporary events. “Polyphemus” can be seen as “a metaphor about a global refugee crisis,” she wrote in an email. The violence of geology is dwarfed by the brutality of man.

Artemis Herber: Erratic Landscapes Through June 2 at MPA at Chain Bridge Gallery, 1446 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. 703-790-1953.

Sean Starwars

Several creatures from George Lucas’s fictional universe appear in Sean Starwars’s “Southern Fried Woodcuts,” a riot of black lines and hot colors at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. So do blues musicians, anthropomorphic animals, Pez dispensers and bottles of a beloved Dixie elixir. Why didn’t the Mississippi printmaker dub himself “Sean Mountaindew”? Probably because it sounds less like his discarded original surname, Stewart.

Starwars’s show might be titled “Advertisements for My Stuff,” and features a few actual advertisements. The artist makes gig posters for his favorite musical acts, notably Guided by Voices. He doesn’t alter his frantic style for such work. All of these woodcuts are brash, energetic and as spontaneous as art that involves several steps can be. The loose, sometimes overlaid colors simulate hand-coloring, and a few of the prints are so heavily inked that they look to be reversed onto black paper. Yet Starwars is fully in control of his method. The overload of images and gestures in his work faithfully represents his own universe.

Sean Starwars: Southern Fried Woodcuts Through June 2 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville. 301-608-9101.

Spring Solos

The galleries of the Arlington Arts Center, a former school, lend themselves to three-dimensional work, and there’s plenty of it in “Spring Solos 2018.” Even the paintings and drawings have a 3-D aspect: Phaan Howng’s abstracted nature-scapes are on vast, hanging panels; some of Adam Griffiths’s surrealist drawings and prints have fabric overlays; and Jerry Truong works incense ash into his realist charcoal renderings of seas and faces, which evoke the loss of the artist’s ancestral home.

Nick Primo uses recognizable construction materials such as ventilation pipes, so his abstract sculptures combine whimsy and a sense of practicality. That mix is shared by Sean Derry’s pumping apparatus, whose breath-like action gives it a touchingly human vulnerability. Gallerygoers become ghosts in the machine of Giulia Piera Livi’s installation, a dry swimming pool with a tilelike pattern painted on the wall and floor. Staging this piece in a basement room is essential to the effect, yet Livi transforms the space utterly.

Spring Solos 2018 Through June 2 at Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-6800.