The people in Stefan Bremer’s large-format photographs wear sumptuous costumes, hold exotic flowers and are sometimes bathed in pink light. Yet these aren’t conventional glamour shots. The performers portrayed in “Duva Diva: DuvTeatern’s Glorious Carmen: Photographs by Stefan Bremer” have Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities. They’re members of the cast of a 2011 production of “Carmen” by Helsinki’s DuvTeatern, a company founded in 1999 to stage classic plays (and later, operas) with unconventional casts.
The photographs, on display at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, have not previously been exhibited outside Finland. Bremer and the theater’s director, Mikaela Hasan, were in Washington for the opening and discussed their work. “These people are artists,” Hasan says of her actors, dancers and singers. “They’re very aware of what they’re doing. No one tricked them into doing this.”
Although DuvTeatern bases its performances on classics, the texts are open to collaborative changes. (For “Carmen,” the actress playing the title role didn’t want her character to die at the end. So she didn’t.) The “Carmen” portraits were made early in the process, Bremer explains, and helped shape the show.
There’s a lot of red in these photos — it’s “Carmen,” after all — and Bremer used Goya and Velazquez paintings as models for the poses and compositions. Most of the photographs, all solo portraits except for two duo shots, depict the actors in character; a few observe them getting into their roles, with costumers and makeup artists at work. But all show the actors being transported, entering a realm of imagination that pleases them. The images are full of smiles and laughs.
Bremer’s photographs might make some viewers uncomfortable. The subjects don’t fit customary standards of beauty, and the contrast between their unconventional faces and Bremer’s high-gloss style is strong. But the pictures echo what Bremer says is the goal of the production. “It asks, ‘Who has the right to take the center stage?’ ” If that question can be answered with a joyous grin or guffaw, the answer is clear: These performers do.
Fifty percent of the proceeds of the gallery’s sales from the show will go to DuvTeatern.
There are no smiles on the faces shown in “Girls! Nice Doesn’t Cut It,” a suite of glowering beauties with iconic names. The poses in Jackie Hoysted’s acrylic paintings, at Gallery 555dc, come from fashion shows and magazines; two of the subjects are models on a runway. But the catwalkers are called Vashti and Medb, after mythic monarchs: the banished Persian queen from the biblical book of Esther, and the queen who sparked war between Connaught and Ulster in Irish mythology.
Most of the 11 women’s names are from ancient times and sources, although a few derive from feminist icons of more recent vintage: pioneering 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi, “A Room of One’s Own” author Virginia Woolf and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s” Lisbeth Salander. They’re all modern, though, in demeanor as well as garb. They stare at the viewer without the coyness expected of female subjects in centuries past.
The work of a Dublin-bred Maryland painter and computer scientist, “Girls!” grabs the viewer’s attention with attitude. But there’s pictorial flair on display, as well. Hoysted renders each figure in a limited yet striking palette, with the backgrounds and clothing usually in similar hues and the flesh in contrasting shades of tan, gray or blue. The look suggests photographic sources, and the mostly gray “Eve” — there had to be an “Eve” — resembles a solarization. The colors aren’t flat, however; they’re richly modeled, especially to depict skin. There’s plenty to see here for those who aren’t scared off by the first smoldering glance.
Faces also stand out in the mixed-media paintings of Ulysses Marshall, whose “Paper Doll Series” incorporates photocopied visages cut from newspapers and magazines. Yet these clippings rarely dominate the work in the Washington artist’s “The Journey of Hope,” at International Visions.
Marshall is a maximalist whose jazzy canvases resound with bright colors and vivid shapes as well as his various borrowings, which include three-dimensional items such as tea bags and a curling iron.
One of Marshall’s major influences is Willem de Kooning, the so-called abstract expressionist whose loosely painted work didn’t entirely banish representation. Marshall also draws on traditional African masks and sculpture and African American history, as well as his own life. (One personal influence on his stitched-together art is his grandmother’s quilting.) His paintings’ titles often refer to gospel songs, and “A Train Is Coming” depicts gravestones with names of civil rights martyrs.
Marshall likes both simplicity and extravagance, sometimes combined in the same piece with surprising poise. Bustling, painterly images may be divided or framed by blocks of simple color. Certain areas are thickly impastoed; in others, the basic materials are barely manipulated. This show has packed canvases, overflowing with color, texture and motion. But it takes its name from an unexpectedly stark piece in which two figures, cut from brown cardboard and painted with white patterns, move under a round red sun. It’s not a characteristic Marshall work — except in its boldness.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through April 15 at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, 1300 13th St. NW. 202-638-3612; www.charleskrausereporting.com.
on view through March 30 at Gallery555dc, 555 12th St. NW; 202-393-1409, www.gallery555dc.com.
on view through March 17 at International Visions, 2629 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-234-5112; www.inter-visions.com.