Tropical hues take a twist — in fact, a lot of twists — in “Color + Form = Blackstraction,” an exhibition at Honfleur Gallery about the jazzy work of four African-American women whose styles complement each other perfectly. The quartet of veteran artists, who call themselves Women of Undetermined Age, are painters and printmakers. But they bend, drape and layer their mostly abstract images so that they achieve a sculptural form and presence.
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An unframed, unfurled painting of Sheila Crider, hung so each end sags, provides the show’s exemplary title: “Shape Shifter.” Crider’s flowing creations are made with acrylic pigments on unprimed canvas and often include smaller portions of painted fabric sewn onto the main panel with vinyl cording. The strategy invokes the historical importance of women’s craftsmanship.
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The other contributors mainly work on and with paper. Gail Shaw-Clemons makes gradient color monotypes and arranges them in two-ply stacks, with the upper tiers partially rolled up or around to reveal those below. Wall-mounted or placed on pedestals, Adjoa J. Burrowes’ vividly patterned inventions are as intricately folded as the bellows of an accordion and often adorned with ribbons. Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter’s contributions include Cubist-like 3D constructions and broadly horizontal paintings punctuated with bursts of collages at their center.
One of the Gibson-Hunter pieces strays from the show’s dominant color scheme by emphasizing black and dark blue, though it’s brightened up with a splash of gold. Shaw-Clemons carefully moves away from pure abstraction with a print that incorporates silhouetted leaf shapes. These minor variations aside, “Blackstraction” is characterized above all by the compatibility of the artists. These works of art use many colors and take various forms, but they share a festive spirit.
Women of an indeterminate age: Color + Shape = Blackstraction Until September 24 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Road. SE.
The pandemic provided the occasion, and Bach’s partitas an inspiration, when Gary Anthes began photographing still lifes in an abandoned structure on his property. “Partita Rustica – Life and Death in a Virginia Barn” are studies of objects placed in front of rough-grained wooden backdrops and lit, starkly but beautifully, by natural light. The sun plays a crucial, albeit entirely off-stage, role in the Studio Gallery show.
While a key, a scythe and a mound of barbed wire are among Anthes’ subjects, most of the elements posed are natural and many of them – as the show’s subtitle notes – are dead. Bird carcasses and a small rabbit sit alongside floral arrangements in lyrical funerary tableaux, and a diptych shows dog grass leaves withering in just two days. In a somber composition, a pair of pumpkins, long rotting, approach fossilization.
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The inevitability of death is a venerable theme in art, underscored here by the fact that these images were made as millions died of covid. But there is also vitality in Anthes’ photos, some of which feature leaves and sprigs in fertile shades of green. The only things brighter are the wide planes and narrow skylights penetrating the shaded barn, a testament to the warmth, glare and life that lingers outside.
Gary Anthes: Partita Rustica—Life and Death in a Virginia Barn Until September 24 at Workshop Gallery2108 R St. NW.
The artworks in Steve Wanna’s Touchstone Gallery exhibition, “Transparent to Transcendence,” are miniature big bangs. Inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the images are abstract spacescapes made by smashing plaster shells filled with liquid and powder pigments onto panels painted in a single shade. These frozen bursts of color are essentially paints, but the local Lebanese artist’s process leaves sculptural clumps of paint and plaster chips near the center of the random compositions.
Wanna has exhibited images made in this way for several years, but Touchstone’s examples are among the most striking. Many are circular, which suits the explosive format, and feature striking background colors like bright orange or fiery pink. Wanna switches to a black background for the piece that most evokes interstellar vistas, but all of the paints feature scattered specks of pigment that dot the seemingly vast depths like clouds of distant stars.
The exhibition also includes an in situ installation that evokes space in a more orderly way. A tall, skinny black 3D rectangle is positioned against a section of a black wall, with the overwhelming darkness of the room punctuated by a slit shining with electric light from within. Unlike paintings, this freestanding sculpture is precise and symmetrical. Yet, like all of Wanna’s pieces, it evokes the mysteries of oblivion and creation.
Steve Wanna: transparent to transcendence Until September 25 at Touchstone Gallery901 New York Avenue NW.
No actual flame illuminates Tory Cowles’ “Reflections: Fire on the Water,” but there is ample evidence of its earlier presence. The local artist’s Artists & Makers show centers around a water-filled fountain in which partially melted but unlit candles float. (The container is actually a lid on a 55-gallon barrel, upturned.) Photographs document the source when it contained burning candles, their glowing wicks the only orange elements in an almost entirely black and silver spectacle.
Near the entrance to the gallery is a collage of recent newspaper articles on guns, election denial and climate issues, arranged next to the word “danger” stenciled in silver on black. This suggests the artwork’s purpose: to allay anger and anxiety over “climate change, war, and our political situation,” as Cowles wrote in an email. Most of the other parts, however, are free of text.
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What unifies the show are its dramatic colors and the striking juxtaposition of found objects – man-made and natural, though the latter are painted silver to give them an industrial quality. One wall piece pairs a chunky black yarn nest with a metallic stained bamboo branch, and two collages include silver leaves. Organic objects are denatured, but retaining their essential form, they can express a certain hope.
Tory Cowles: Reflections: Fire on Water Until September 21 at Artists and creators11810 Parklawn Drive, Rockville.