The impromptu brushstroke was so emblematic or abstract expressionism that pop artist Roy Lichtenstein parodied it for decades. But some mid-20th century abstraction shunned brushes altogether in favor of pouring, dripping and spattering. That kind of techniques are still fruitful, Greg Minah, Nicole Gunning and Shar Coulson, at two shows a block apart.
Cross MacKenzie Gallery's "New Material" reflects how Minah and Gunning add water and clay, respectively, to the mix. Minah pours pigment and, while it's still liquid, spins the canvas to cause gestures that flow and crisscross each other. Sometimes he sprays the surface with water or air, but the ghostly outlines where the edges of the rivulets have dried. These can stand alone or as bones to be overpainted with layers of multicolored skin.
The Baltimore artist has a number of variations on this strategy. Some of the resulting pictures are pastel and chalky, and others are brighter and more opaque. The most recent work features that appear feathery, as though the intricate overlaps were still fluttering. Minah freezes streams of paint, but the sense of motion remains.
Primarily a ceramist, Gunning has been shown her terra-cotta nude self-portraits. The D.C. artist has turned to splashing colored bentonite on canvas. The 3-D clay affixes in patterns that resemble coral reefs, lichen-covered rocks or, as a title has it, a "Kelp Forest." Although a single-color undercoat, the colors and clumps are strikingly unpredictable.
The mixed-media paintings by Shar Coulson, whose "Perception v. Reality "is at Artist's Proof, are somewhat more traditional. The Chicago artist's work begins as abstract but comes to include hints of nature and landscape imagery. (Her current series is titled "Fauna Flora Figure.") Some brushwork is evident amid the strata of wax and acrylic paint, as are lines drawn in charcoal.
Yet Coulson uses tactics akin to Minah's. She regularly rotates the canvas so as to approach the composition from fresh perspectives. Also, she abrades pigment she has applied, both to yield and to open areas for new forays. The completed pictures feel delicate yet physical, combining muted hues and robust gestures. Coulson's homages to flora and fauna are just as much celebrations of the act of painting.
Greg Minah and Nicole Gunning: New Material Through Nov. 14 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Perception vs. Reality: An Exhibition of Works by Shar Coulson Through Nov. 25 at Artist's Proof, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Alvarez Yurcisin, Sherrill Evans & Shellow
Circles and repurposed items are two of the three motifs or "Open System," Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin's show at VisArts' Concourse Gallery. The inspiration for the third component could be explained by the Mexico-born local artist's current field of study: urban planning. Alvarez Yurcisin often arrays her found-object pieces in grids as tidy as any plotted by Pierre L'Enfant.
Alvarez Yurcisin constructs boxes – she calls them "cages" – with neatly interwoven shiny colored ribbons and black cassette tape. On the floor, four landscape photos define the sides of an empty rectangle. The circular forms or case-less floppy disks are mounted in orderly rows. Other ready-made rounds include Rolodex, exercise wheels for small animals, and circles and paper on which viewers are asked to "write your circular thoughts."
The work suggests cycles of history, as well as processes of manufacturing. These pieces are, after all, a form of recycling. Many of the things Alvarez Yurcisin employs are technologically obsolete, but they do not salvage them. She uses their elemental forms to illustrate a sort of eternal recurrence.
Nearby, at the venue Common Ground gallery, Andrea Sherrill Evans addresses a different sort of environmental concern. Her "Invasive" is a series of small, precise drawings or nonnative plants thriving in the Mid-Atlantic. Kudzu, English ivy and others are rendered in silverpoint, a millennia-old technique that transfers lines or real silver to paper. Although the effect is subtle, Sherrill Evans's pictures depict foliage that is wildly and equally dangerously profuse.
The organic imagery is less literal in Leslie Shellow's "The Substance of Matter," downstairs at the Gibbs Street Gallery. Wind and water are represented in the work of this artist, who, like Sherrill Evans, teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. The show includes small black-and-white ink paintings on paper in the classical Chinese fashion. Shellow also projects video of waves and sea grass over one of her pictures. Whatever the medium, the artist seeks to convey the intensity and ephemerality at the same time.
Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin: Open System; Andrea Sherrill Evans: Invasive; Leslie Shellow: The Substance of Matter Through Nov. 18 at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville.
The two fixed painting collages that constitute Zoe Charlton's "The Migration" tell a compelling personal story. But the form of the G Fine Art show is as interesting as its content.
Originally commissioned by and produced at Artspace San Antonio, both pieces begin as a painting of a nude woman, representing Charlton's female ancestors. From the bodies of greens, reminiscent of the Florida homestead owned by the Baltimore artist, grandmother at a time when African American women were landholders. Rising from the trees are flocks of cut-out birds, which flap all the way to the gallery's back corner. Some are realistic renderings; others are just outlines snipped from decorative papers.
Birds in flight evoke freedom, and so does the almost unbounded composition. The central part of each artwork is on a rectangle or white paper, but its borders are in the white wall, and the collaged elements are spill off the sheet and across the room. Charlton's art bursts fits the picture frame until it reaches the room's corner, where one bird's head is chopped off to indicate it has reached the border. "The Migration" celebrates fecundity and abandon, but playfully acknowledges that even the grandest visions have boundaries.
Zoe Charlton: The Migration Through Nov. 17 at G Fine Art, 4718 14th St. NW.