Quick tour through the district’s many painting exhibitions
Photoshopped collages, video installations, mixed media assemblages, there is no shortage of contemporary media that bypass traditional artistic techniques. Yet people continue to paint. Each week in Washington, there are too many painting exhibitions to walk through them all. But here’s a whirlwind tour, inspired by a show that features half a dozen daubers from the region.
“6 Painters”, at Civilian Art Projects, does not celebrate a trend or advance a thesis. Most of the works are recent, but a canvas, by Tom Green, dates from 1987. There are both figurative and abstract works, although few in the latter category represent the “pure” abstraction of the abstract expressionism of the world. mid-twentieth century. This mode is available elsewhere in the city.
Green offers two paintings in his usual format, carefully featuring black runic figures that appear to float above bold, monochrome backdrops. The other two abstractionists in the series are less careful. Tom Bunnell’s paintings, half of which are associated with complementary images, feature cell-like shapes and a mixture of watery and hard shapes. They sometimes suggest nature but in its microscopic form. Champneys Taylor’s acrylics, with their pastel colors and horizontal lines, evoke the landscape. But the artist injects duct tape and spray paint into the compositions, giving them a punk edge.
Eric Finzi mixes the pigment with epoxy resin, a fast-drying medium that requires a quick hand. Yet her images of formally posed women and men (and the occasional tiger) evoke the majestic art of the past. Cavan Fleming’s images show the shock of nature and humanity, though the latter is only present in his artifacts: seemingly abandoned buildings reclaimed by the forest, possibly after a disaster wiped out their builders .
The largest number of paintings are by Nora Sturges, who is inspired by exotic climates and the work of Italo Calvino.Invisible cities. Painted in oils on fiberboard, the Baltimore artist’s images are small – sometimes very small – but detailed. One set depicts what appears to be Antarctica, another one man’s travels white-haired in modern attire, identified as Marco Polo Sturges’ style has a medieval quality, but his search for new territory is timeless.
Willem de Looper
Born in the Netherlands, Willem de Looper (1932-2009) arrived in Washington at a young age and worked for many years at the Phillips Collection, one of the sources of the Washington Color School. In the late 1960s, he was using techniques pioneered by Morris Louis (d.1962), using multiple washes of thin acrylic pigment to produce rich hues and puffy shapes. Louis called one of his series “Veils” and “Purple Veil” is one of Looper’s four large canvases in “Paintings 1968-72” by Hemphill Fine Arts.
Louis’s “Voiles” are mostly dark, offering only a glimpse of the vivid colors they contain. The work in Looper’s exhibition is brighter and more immediate. The four paintings (originally shown at the Jefferson Place Gallery, another Color School landmark) are related to one hue but encompass many others. These are full-length paintings, without the blank canvas areas common in the work of de Looper’s predecessors. The effect is fluid and enveloping, with an impression of depth and movement. The ideology of “post-painter abstraction” of the late 1950s fades into these images, giving way to a more sensual perspective.
There are only six canvases in “Intuitive Journeys: Works by Joyce Wellman,” and yet it’s an expansive exhibit. The images are large and the media are diverse: oil, acrylic, watercolor, drawing and collage. While Wellman’s style is abstract, and titles such as “Evening Sky” and “Sun Burst” simply refer to the qualities of light and color, his art is dense in references.
Wellman, raised in New York City, who lived and worked in the district for more than three decades, was trained as an engraver, but she is adept at layering thick, heavily worked pigments. Even the simplest of these pieces, the pale yellow “South American Journey” is richly textured. The larger, “Number Genome,” goes a step further, incorporating numbers as well as newspaper clippings and glued playing cards that evoke African-American history. It’s not exactly a genome, but the painting suggests the legacy underlying Wellman’s work.
Architect and painter Bernardo Siles is originally from Bolivia, but the cool-colored work he exhibits at the Plan B gallery seems more Washingtonian than Latin. This is especially true of his most striking images, which leave areas of the canvas blank, suggesting the compositions of Morris Louis and his Color School colleague Kenneth Noland.
Unlike these precursors, Siles works in oil, not acrylic, and does not allow pigments to flow. He creates oblique patterns of almost parallel color bands, mostly blue, green and gray. The colors sometimes seem to overlap, blending into a different hue at the intersection. These minimalist paintings, identified simply by a number, don’t have a lot of energy. But they are calm and refreshing, like a trickle of water in a moss garden.
Pennsylvania landscape painter Caroline Adams represents both the Mid-Atlantic States and Ecuador, where she lives. The South American country offers more spectacular views, with deeper valleys and higher mountains. But Adams is not particularly interested in drama, as the title of her show suggests to Susan Calloway Fine Arts. “Time of Day” uses soft colors and soft shapes to evoke constantly changing natural phenomena such as clouds, storms and light.
Adams graduated in printmaking, which may explain why she painted several views of similar panoramas, sometimes dividing them into diptychs or triptychs. The 14 small “Variations” of the show, performed on panels in egg tempera and oil, are hung together in tufts, as if to offer simultaneous views of the same (or almost) the same setting. It’s an idea that probably wouldn’t have occurred to a painter before the advent of photography, but Adams’s execution seems more classic than modern.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
visible until February 25 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 Seventh St. NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com .
Willem de Looper: Paintings 1968-72
visible through March 10 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-234-5601, www.hemphillfinearts.com .
Intuitive Journeys: Works by Joyce Wellman
visible until March 6 at Heurich Gallery, 505 Ninth St. NW; 202-223-1626; www.downtowndc.org/ go / the-heurich-gallery .
works by Bernardo Siles
visible through February 26 at Gallery Plan b, 1530 14th St. NW; 202-234-2711; www.galleryplanb.com .
Time of Day: Caroline Adams
visible until February 18 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-965-4601; www.callowayart.com.