The name “Sylvania” might suggest that Anna Beeke has found a realm untouched by human activity, but her photographs at Cross MacKenzie Gallery aren’t of virgin forests. Paved roads, the effects of logging and even an oddly placed satellite dish are visible in these pictures of the Pacific Northwest. (Beeke doesn’t identify the exact locations.) A few shots include paintings of foliage. In one, towering firs are echoed by ones painted on the side of a massive metal tank, a tribute from industry to nature.
Among these photos, recently collected in a book, are some that focus on mist, moss or diffused sunlight. (One is titled “Lux Dei,” the light of God.) But the Brooklynite who was born in the District often includes some sort of visual wink. The tree in “Bonsai” resembles one of those tiny Japanese ornamentals, but the presence of a small human figure indicates that the tree is much too big to fit in a pot. Traffic lights on a two-lane road provide two orbs of artificial green within a forest of emerald. Wherever Sylvania is, it’s not remote from the human urge to mimic, organize and control.
Also at the gallery, “Intersections” is a small selection of photos by Léa Eouzan. The Corsican works in parts of Europe that have more dry crags and fewer lush woodlands than in Beeke’s landscapes. Both photographers have an eye for the human presence, as Eouzan demonstrates with a picture of a car abandoned in a seemingly unreachable spot on the side of rocky summit. She’s drawn to dilapidated houses so old that they almost look to be natural phenomena; one of them sits forlornly in a woods, with a string of high-rises just beyond the greenery. The trees appear to draw a hard line between the natural and the built, but both Eouzan’s and Beeke’s pictures show that man is forever infiltrating Sylvania.
Sylvania: Photographs by Anna Beeke and Intersections: Photographs by Léa Eouzan On view through Nov. 10 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. www.crossmackenzie.com.
Artist Patrick Dougherty’s house-size structure of woven saplings, across the street from the Greater Reston Arts Center, is slowly withering in the sun, wind and rain. Bringing such a process inside is impossible, but “Ephemeral” gives it a try. The materials in this 27-artist Washington Sculptors Group exhibition include tree stumps, grapevines and milkweed fluff, as well as various manmade disposables.
Some of the artists freeze deterioration: Mike Shaffer preserves a rotting log in a clear coating; Raymonde van Santen’s photo and video observe a face-like mound as it decays in surf; and Billy Friebele is showing both a sculpture of folded, partly burned paper sculpture and a video of its making. Others deconstruct: Nizette Brennan presents a carved marble piece, along with marble chips and dust, and May Britton neatly segments tree stumps and splays the slices so they resemble a human spine.
Some of the artists contrast manufactured items with natural ones. In Maggie Gourlay’s piece, a wooden column emerges from ragged chunks of drywall; pale-blue artificial light glows from inside Liz Lescault’s spun gray “Cocoon”; and Tom Greaves has cast a model of a human heart from red-dyed beet sugar. The most pointed pieces are entirely unnatural in ingredients, if not implication. Jessica Beels’s “Bycatch 1” anchors a net with plastic water bottles, representing one of the many ways humans foul the oceans. Gloria Chapa constructed what she calls a “blankie” entirely of resin-coated potato chips, while Iris Posner simply filled a mouthwash bottle with small bits of trash. Her “Detritus: Bathroom — One Week” is not the show’s most handsome item, but it’s among the most memorable.
Ephemeral On view through Nov. 14 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston. 703-471-9242. www.restonarts.org.
Winning the Nobel Prize for literature can overshadow a person’s other accomplishments. But Günter Grass was a visual artist before he published “The Tin Drum,” his first novel, in 1959. Alex Gallery’s “Günter Grass: Graphic Artist” presents drawings, lithographs and etchings by the Polish-German author, who died in April. Some of the artworks incorporate text from his books, and both words and images reflect World War II’s aftermath. Devastated trees and forests are recurring images, as are the small creatures who survived the mayhem, among them frogs, rats, snails and eels.
The last of those animals features in “The Tin Drum,” but in these drawings, the eel also represents a part of the male anatomy. So do the stems of Grass’s mushrooms, which embody human as well as vegetal fecundity. These and other subjects are depicted with clean lines, often closely spaced but sometimes outlining expanses of white space.
The technique is classical, closer to the style of Albrecht Dürer than those of Grass’s contemporaries. What’s modern about these pictures is their sensibility. They depict, however traditionally, a universe whose order has been forever disarrayed.
Günter Grass: Graphic Artist On view through Nov. 30 at Alex Gallery, 2106 R St. NW. 202-667-2599. www.alexgalleries.com.
The seven artists in Marsha Mateyka Gallery’s “Drawing” are regulars there, and several are offering work whose style and concerns are familiar from recent shows there. That’s not detrimental to the fine pieces by Nancy Wolf, whose elaborate tableaux combine modernist architectural motifs with classical Western and Chinese elements; in one large drawing, baroque formal gardens promenade atop a series of blank office blocks. Equally strong are Stephen Talasnik’s richly textured semi-architectural renderings, which combine precision and play, and Jae Ko’s white-on-black, glue-and-ink spirals, which mirror the contours of her better-known sculptures.
Less expected but just as expressive are drawings by Craig Dennis and Christopher French. French’s warping grid of red lines, punctuated by blue dots, suggests “Tron,” non-Euclidean geometry and an expanding universe. Dennis’s large piece consists of multiple overlapping figures, each beginning with a tiny circle. Working freehand, the artist renders concentric lines that become increasingly eccentric as he magnifies each glitch when drawing the next orbit. If the artwork is in part an illustration of its own process, it also has a craggy, complex beauty that’s closer to natural forms than to the sterile perfection of an immaculate circle.
Drawing: Gene Davis, Craig Dennis, Christopher French, Jae Ko, Stephen Talasnik, William T. Wiley, Nancy Wolf On view through Nov. 14 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW. 202-328-0088. www.marshamateykagallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.