This year’s Bethesda Painting Awards appear to split equally between abstraction and representation, a divide that was once more of an ideological rift than it is today. But only two of the eight finalists, all from the Washington-Baltimore area and now exhibiting their entries at Gallery B, deal in pure abstraction. And neither of them have styles that are painterly in the abstract-expressionist mode.
Lawrence Cromwell, who took the top prize, hews closest to that style. His allover oils are vibrant and freewheeling, yet carefully worked. They’re collagelike, and seem to arise from spontaneous gestures that are then smoothed and solidified. The results are kinetic, if not as jumpy as Chee Keong Kung’s ink-and-acrylic pictures, which are full of straight lines yet swoop and swirl.
The other two abstractionists address contemporary social issues, albeit with visuals that are symbolic rather than literal. Jowita Wyszomirska was inspired by a trip to Alaska, where she observed the power and fragility of glaciers in a warming world. Her installation is the only piece in the show that stretches the definition of painting. It consists of four scrolls — painted with black figures that recall classical Chinese ink painting at its loosest — hanging alongside suspended 3-D fabric elements.
In three circular paintings, Pat Goslee channels health, environmental and other concerns into compositions that appear at once random and rigorous. The artist (who is married to Washington Post journalist Michael O’Sullivan) uses plastic trash such as six-pack rings as stencils, transmuting the outlines into organic shapes. The round format gives the pictures added focus, as does limiting the color range and juxtaposing complementary hues.
All of the representational painters are showing portraits, in styles that span Temi Wynston Edun’s expressionism, Christopher Batten’s insect-swarmed surrealism and Scott Ponemone’s precise watercolor realism. Also a realist is Monica Ikegwu, whose stated goal is to make positive images of a diverse array of African Americans. Ikegwu is a deft painter with an expert eye for light and color. The most striking example of her skills is a picture of a young Black woman, her skin aglow, surrounded by blue fabric. In this gemlike portrayal, she looks like a jewel in an upholstered box.
Bethesda Painting Awards Through Oct. 31 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda.
“In medias res,” Latin for “into the middle of things,” is a literary term. But it applies well to Carol Barsha’s pictures, at once delicate and bold, of flowers and birds. The Chevy Chase artist’s “Within My Meadow,” at Gallery Neptune & Brown, consists mostly of large painting-drawings that are so immersive they beckon the viewer to enter. Most of these intimate, ground-level landscapes have no sense of distance. They’re a riot of colors, forms and species, rendered on paper in a mash-up of watercolor, gouache, pastel, ink, charcoal and pencil.
The artist observes nature closely, yet is not a realist. As her statement acknowledges, Barsha flouts literal perspective and proportion, and assembles flora and fauna as she likes, not as they would necessarily coexist in an actual meadow. The effect, however, is not jarring. While Barsha doesn’t concern herself with botanical accuracy, her work is appealingly natural in spirit. Her flowering meadows are recognizable as both actual landscapes and personal reveries.
Carol Barsha: Within My Meadow Through Oct. 31 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.
Half of the paintings in D.C. artist Russell Katz’s debut solo show, “RK1,” depict trees. Yet the pictures in the Terzo Piano exhibit couldn’t be less like Barsha’s. They’re stark renderings of bare trunks and limbs in winter, daubed in yellowish grays that are faithful to their source: the photographs of pioneering French artist Eugène Atget, made mostly in the first quarter of the 20th century. Oddly, the tree studies fit well with the other series of Katz oils on display, which re-create photos of World War I battlefield explosions.
Formally, the two series have more in common than their monochromatic palettes. Both trees and explosions reach for the sky, and in these pictures are viewed straight on, without tricky framing. The crucial difference is the implied action of the explosion paintings. They’re just as static as the tree ones, yet strongly imply action. More than a century later and translated from photo to painting, the blasts look as immediate as the trees appear ageless.
This is the first full show at the gallery, which opened in March in the former Hemphill Fine Arts location, and then to close almost immediately. Owner Giorgio Furioso has expanded the exhibition space, so Katz’s large, detailed canvases have plenty of room. Each stands alone like a monument to lost time.
Russell Katz: RK1 Through Oct. 31 at Terzo Piano, 1515 14th St. NW. Open by appointment.
Stacks & Tenaglia
The imagery in Adah Rose Gallery’s two-artist show, “The Patina of Time,” draws from nature, but not necessarily its visible aspects. Some of the repeated forms in Susan Stacks’s densely patterned ink-and-graphite abstractions resemble leaves or clouds, but others suggest microscopic life or pure mathematics translated into lines and curves. Often divided into diptychs, the drawings pit one side against the other, and orderly motifs against disruptive elements.
The local artist is influenced by traditional Japanese painting, and her gold- and silver-flecked inventions wouldn’t look out of place on the walls of an Edo-period temple. They’re also timely, Stacks writes in her statement, since her hermetic style suits “the strange rhythms of isolated living” during pandemic quarantine. Even at their most meteorological, Stacks’s pictures chart voyages into the interior.
Christina Tenaglia’s modestly scaled wall pieces are based on observations of landscape, but are so distilled that their origins are indistinct. These hybrids of sculpture and painting are made of wood and ceramics, their parts affixed with nails, screws or — in one case — a metal hinge. Mostly brown and black, but sometimes punctuated by yellow or red, the artworks have an engagingly cartoonish character. They seem to be sketches of the artist’s Hudson Valley environs, rendered not with brush or pen but with things she found at the hardware store.
Susan Stacks & Christina Tenaglia: The Patina of Time Through Oct. 31 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington.