Prints and etchings can’t rival the richness of paintings, but they come pretty close in “Jumpstart D.C.,” Christine Neptune’s first exhibition in her new space in Georgetown. Regard, for example, Philip Taaffe’s “Lunapark,” a screenprint that works bird and plant forms into something that resembles psychedelic wallpaper. The colors in this nearly six-foot-high print, one of an edition of 75, are designed to look somewhat faded, but that just makes them all the more sumptuous.
Neptune publishes and sells prints, and her artists are not beginners. This group show includes pieces by Richard Diebenkorn, Jenny Holzer, Ellsworth Kelly, Ed Ruscha, Jennifer Bartlett, Brice Marden and others whose art is held by major museums in Washington and elsewhere.
One of the most painstaking selections is “Trois Divas,” by Mickalene Thomas, whose work is also in the Corcoran’s current “30 Americans” show. The three high-contrast portraits are simple screenprints with mono-color backdrops, but they include large areas covered with black rhinestones — each one hand-applied with a chopstick. It took two years to make 20 sets of the three prints, Neptune says.
Some of the work is simpler than that. Holzer’s portfolio, “AKA,” enlarges pages from George Orwell’s FBI file, which is so heavily redacted that its many black blocks verge on an abstract design. Kelly is known for hard-edged, brightly hued paintings, but his “Wild Grape Leaf” is a simple (if outsize) outline of a natural form. More expected is Diebenkorn’s “Red Yellow Blue,” a geometric abstraction that echoes his paintings. The predominantly blue work fits well with Kate Shepherd’s “Joker Card,” whose simple lines contrast with a field of subtly toned blue stripes.
Many of the show’s works are similarly stark, yet with a palette that can’t be termed minimalist. Bartlett’s “Conversations,” based on a pattern she remembers from her dreams, forms letters and words from simple blobs of color, but the dots are bright and bold and the overall effect emphatic. James Siena’s “Battery Variations, I, II, III” offers three color schemes for the same composition of oscillating dots and spirals, which suggest patterns of scales or cells. Simple and complex at the same time, the trio of screenprints is emblematic of “Jumpstart D.C.” The works in this display use mechanical reproduction to express one-of-a-kind sensibilities.
In her first local solo show, “Double Dare Ya,” Lily deSaussure begins with machine-made images: photographs of herself, her family and her friends. These are inherently private, yet also — especially in the Facebook era — capable of reaching viewers for whom they have no innate meaning. So the local artist makes drawings of the autobiographical photos, and then uses the drawings as the basis for cotton-floss embroidery. A pre-photographic art becomes a way to stake an individual claim on potentially anonymous pictures. Or, in deSaussure’s words, “paying the ultimate tribute to my personal memories.”
Transformer is one of the city’s smallest galleries, so it has room for only a few examples of deSaussure’s work. But these include a large, free-standing drywall panel placed in the middle of the space so that the white-on-white stitching can be viewed from both sides. It could be argued that embroidery is a retro choice of medium, but this piece is contemporary in its avoidance of traditional material — it’s a long way from doilies to drywall — and its insistence on revealing the artistic back story.
The artist works in white, yellow and red thread, usually on white paper and often leaving much of the area unstitched. The result is unassertive, even wispy, making a strong connection between her pencil sketches and her embroidery. DeSaussure writes that she’s “memorializing” the images she sews, but the delicacy of her work suggests the opposite: the impermanence of memory.
Painting on ceramic vessels is not exactly a new thing in China; the earliest surviving examples are more than two millennia old. The work in “China Town: Contemporary Ceramic Painting From Jingdezhen” is not merely a continuation of that tradition, however. The porcelain made today in the east-central Chinese city, long a ceramics center, exploits new techniques and formats, including large ceramic “canvases.” Of the 36 pieces in this selection, only a few are pots, vases or flasks — and several of those are by a guy from Seattle, Jared FitzGerald, who maintains a studio in Jingdezhen.
In Chinese art, there are many ways to follow tradition. Jin Zhaotao’s views of the four seasons use the customary vertical format, as if they were painted on silk or paper rather than fired clay. Many of the works feature text, as is common in Chinese scroll paintings, and depict such long-established subjects as fruit, flowers, Buddhist saints or lone scholars in mountainous landscapes. Even Zhao Mengge’s loosely painted, gently erotic semi-nudes don’t fully break with the past, although nothing exactly like them will be found in collections of historic Chinese art.
The most modern-looking of the works are by Liu Zheng, whose angular compositions appear at first to be abstract. In fact, they depict stylized human faces and sometimes whole bodies, arrayed in mazelike constructions. Ma Dingmin, intriguingly, emulates early-20th-century oil paintings, applying pigments to porcelain in a way that makes the colors seem nearly liquid on the hard surface. You Cuiqing’s depictions of Bodhisattvas also appear contemporary, but they use rich, rustlike tones that give them an ancient-seeming patina. More than anything else in the show — including FitzGerald’s elegant vessels — these paintings fuse contemporary technique and venerable themes.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Jan. 21 at
Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW. Call 202-338-0353 or visit neptunefineart.com.
on view through Jan. 28
at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW.
Call 202-483-1102 or visit transformerdc.org.
on view through Sunday at
Meridian International Center,
1624 Crescent Pl. NW. Call 202-939-5568 or visit meridian.org/chinatown.