Brian Davis's "Try and Try Again" installation at CulturalDC's Flashpoint Gallery. (Tony Hitchcock)

The artist who devised the current show at Flashpoint Gallery is named Brian Davis, but you can call him Sisyphus. Davis’s “Try and Try Again” is a perpetual-motion device that flings notions — actually, ping-pong balls — across the room. Gallery visitors can simply dodge the bullets or help tidy up. Brooms are provided to sweep the balls into a repurposed vacuum cleaner that directs them back into the machine.

The little white ball, according to the artist, is “a metaphor for a kernel of an idea.” Inspiration arrives from the heavens, sort of. Projected on a screen in front of the ball-shooter is video of a sky; every time a cloud reaches the center, software reads it and discharges a projectile (or two or three). At the front of the gallery, a bank of monitors offers a view inside the machine, where the orbs snuggle like eggs in a nest, ready to hatch into fledgling concepts.

Davis teaches new media and sculpture at two local colleges, so he probably devotes a fair amount of time to conversations about ideas and their sources. Other than to counsel persistence, though, “Try and Try Again” doesn’t offer any particular path to creativity. But Davis also explores “using objects and environments to forge a connection between individuals,” a goal that seems more pertinent to this playful piece. With missiles headed at them semi-regularly, bystanders should develop a quick bond. Whether they reach for a broom or head for the door, they’ll have known a moment of common experience.

Brian Davis: Try and Try Again On view through June 4 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW. 202-315-1305.

Nancy McIntyre. "Barbershop Mirror," 1976, silkscreen with 13 layers. (Nancy McIntyre)

Nancy McIntyre

Local painter and printmaker Nancy McIntyre observes life through glass, not so darkly. Many of the pictures in “Rhythms of Time,” her show at the Art League Gallery, depict commercial facades, their simple designs made complex by shadows and reflections. Cleaners, restaurants and barbershops are glimpsed from outside, with multiple planes of activity on and beyond the glass.

These pictorial strata parallel McIntyre’s silk-screen technique, which involves applying multiple layers of translucent colored ink. It can take the artist up to a year to finish one of her print editions, which are modeled on photos but produced with hand-painted stencils. The most intricate one here, “Takoma Park,” was made with 133 applications of pigment. Yet it’s as airy and luminous as “Barbershop Mirror,” which employs a mere 13.

The show features four series that reveal change over minutes or decades. The liveliest is “Five Minutes,” which clusters dynamic poses of a friend’s strutting pet crow. Much quieter is “One Day,” which studies changing clouds over rural Delaware. In the quartet of vertically oriented prints, the sky goes from empty to full to dark, but the light is always compelling.

Nancy McIntyre: Rhythms of Time On view through June 5 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-1780.

Nathan Loda

A hipster George Washington is among the characters in Nathan Loda’s “Histories, Heroes and Small Moments,” but the artist is just as likely to portray people and events from his own past. The Northern Virginia native realistically paints vignettes that combine toys, books and found objects, including family artifacts. An ancestor was involved in running a school for American Indian children in 19th-century North Dakota, and a picture of the place appears in one composition. Also featured in the Adah Rose Gallery show are canoes, guns and arrows, and the half-hidden figure of the trickster, a supernatural imp from native lore.

The Old West and the Civil War are motifs, but Loda keeps his distance by restaging history with images of plastic figurines and putting his source material right in the frame: In “Old Weird America,” a copy of Greil Marcus’s book of the same name is visible on a shelf. Everything is rendered with care, even the bits of tape that seem to hold stuff together. This is a vision of a country that’s grand yet tentative. Although the paintings themselves are permanent, the objects Loda compiles could be rearranged to tell an entirely different story.

Nathan Loda. "Old Weird America" Oil on Canvas; on view at Adah Rose Gallery. (Nathan Loda/Adah Rose Gallery )

Nathan Loda: Histories, Heroes and Small Moments On view through June 5 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, Md. 301-922-0162.

William MacKinnon

Although many of his paintings don’t include cars, William MacKinnon’s style could be termed “automotive chiaroscuro.” The pictures in the Australian artist’s “I Am Beginning to See the Light” often center on a small patch of visible road or outback at night, illuminated by headlights or street lamps. Other around-midnight scenes in the Morton Fine Arts show include “The Great Indoors,” which depicts a house glowing from within and a porch supporting a string of blue lights that resembles a misplaced constellation. The even inkier “There Is a Darkness” discloses little more than a red swoop — perhaps a dirt road — on the lower left and a star cluster on the upper right.

The preponderance of black in MacKinnon’s compositions endows drama, but it also serves to unify the various techniques and media. The artist employs oil, acrylic and auto-body enamel in the same pictures and contrasts precise rendering with looser brushwork that verges on abstraction. The distinction reflects the divide between man-made and natural: Lush vegetation and night skies inspire a freer hand. It also reflects the moods of an artist who writes, “Each day I come into the studio feeling different.” Rather than harmonize these emotions, he juxtaposes them extravagantly, under the cover of darkness.

William MacKinnon: I Am Beginning to See the Light On view through June 2 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787.

James Landry

Made in San Francisco or South Florida in the 1970s and ’80s, the photographs in James Landry’s “Car Series” often include automobiles. Yet the vehicles in the show at Wonder Graphics are incidental to the overall scene or serve merely as evidence of human existence in unpeopled views.

The Maryland artist photographs one-car garages and small parking lots but also trolley tracks, and he spotlights cubist/constructivist compositions he has found in everyday buildings. “Six Dots” and “Roberts Motel” focus on accidentally stylish architectural details, while “Red Mercury” shows a car at the edge of an American landscape that can’t be entered, because it’s a painted mural. Landry has an astute eye, but part of these photos’ appeal is simply their period. They document places and things that appear just slightly out of sync with contemporary life.

James Landry: Car Series On view through June 5 at Wonder Graphics, 1000 Vermont Ave. NW. 202-898-1700.

Brian Davis’s goal: “Using objects and environments to forge a connection between individuals.”