Young lives in Washington, hardly the most automobile-centric American city, yet his spiritual home is the highway. With a few exceptions — a Philadelphia street scene, a downward view of the train tracks at Union Station — these pictures observe aspects of the open road. The emphasis is on billboards and gas stations, but the billboards are blank and the gas stations little more than boxes floating in blackness. Young’s essential subject is the interplay of natural night and artificial day. Humans, unseen in his work, exist only as producers and consumers of light.
While the show includes a few paintings nearly as large as “Crude Refined,” there are more than two dozen smaller canvases, many of them one-foot square. This format allows Young to focus on details, streamlining them almost to abstraction. Such service-station close-ups as “Pyramid” and “Yellow Brand” are more geometry than reportage.
If such pictures are unusually spare, they don’t break with the artist’s established style. Young continues to emulate the plainness of early 20th-century American realism, while imbuing its muted colors and everyday subjects with the luminosity of the great Dutch painters of 300 years earlier. Thus the appeal of such anti-landscapes as “Golden Vapor,” which appears to portray an underground parking garage. Electric light, and Young’s deft brushwork, can give even concrete nothingness an enchanted glow.
Trevor Young: Seeing in the Dark Through Oct. 17 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
In cartoons, tightly clustered wavy lines indicate movement. Such lines function the same way in Tess Olson’s canvases, but since these are abstracts, exactly what’s in motion is uncertain. The vivid pictures in “Cultivating Imperfection,” the Northern Virginia painter’s Art League show, might be pulsing with sound, light or tectonic quavers.
That last possibility is suggested by the multiple levels in Olson’s work. From a distance, the pictures center on simple, curving and sometimes overlapping motifs that suggest those in the paintings of noted local artist Steve Cushner. Closer inspection reveals nuggets of largely buried hues, excavated by scratching and grinding. Although the pigment isn’t applied very thickly, it is built up in layers revealed by these self-styled imperfections.
The other striking thing about Olson’s style is its palette, which recalls early 20th-century European painting. The artist uses oils rather than acrylics, and prefers earth tones to bolder hues. The mottled tans and grays are punctuated by a few bright colors, notably the red of “Ridges,” clustered in hundreds of thin lines atop about 20 thicker black ones. The red and black lines both clash and concur, but ultimately harmonize in good vibration.
Tess Olson: Cultivating Imperfection Through Oct. 4 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.
Artists Doing the Right Thing!
With a house-cum-gallery full of art, much of it political, Zenith Gallery proprietor Margery Goldberg is prepared for just about any ideological tempest. Her current show, “Artists Doing the Right Thing!,” includes Mihira Karra’s collage-portraits of Michelle Obama and Colin Kaepernick and a nightmarish pandemic ER scene painted by Bulsby Duncan (who works at a local hospital). To these, Goldberg recently added Christina Goodman’s pendant of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hand-painted in miniature.
Not everything is that timely. Found-object assemblages by Curtis Woody and Anne Bouie — one-dimensional and 3-D, respectively — ponder African American history and culture. Painter Rachael Bohlander’s fractured patriotic icons include the Stars and Stripes daubed on a mirror and titled “Whoever Fights Monsters (Flag No. 2).” (The reference is to Nietzsche’s warning: “if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”).
New to Zenith is Joanathan Ribaillier, who constructs pictures from multiple levels of carved road maps. (The maps, like the artist, are French.) The resulting silhouettes, stark and intricate at the same time, include activist Angela Davis, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and that moment at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics when two African American athletes,Tommie Smith and John Carlos, held up clenched fists. The latter work hangs in a different room from Karra’s Kaepernick, but the dialogue is easy to follow.
Artists Doing the Right Thing! Protesting Again — Black Lives Matter, Voting Rights Through Oct. 3 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW.
Just a few political insignia can be seen in “Being Human,” a two-woman show at Martha Spak Gallery, and those are a matter of interpretation. The principal message is imparted simply by the diversity of faces and skin colors in this selection of portraits by Meredith Morris and Teresa Jarzynski, local painters who express a similar humanity in divergent styles.
Morris takes a more naturalistic approach, with rounded contours, rich detail and a sense of depth. Jarzynski’s style is looser, flatter and more angular; it even flirts with cubism, if only in the corners of the mostly small oils.
A Black man is draped in a U.S. flag in one picture by Morris, who also painted a young woman enveloped in a rainbow standard. Jarzynski offers several paintings of people in masks, including one titled “Familiar Feeling Different Reason.” That may sound resigned, yet the painter looks as defiant as she does vulnerable in a self-portrait called “Meat.” The picture is Jarzynski’s signature piece in this show, while Morris’s is a portrait of a Black girl whose pretty face is framed by braids. It’s titled, in what could also be read as defiance, “American Beauty.”
Being Human: Meredith Morris and Teresa Jarzynski Through Oct. 3 at Martha Spak Gallery, 40 District Sq. SW.