June 19, 2024


Life is art

Where to see art gallery shows in the Washington region


In certain cultural traditions, notably those of East Asia and the Middle East, writing and drawing are closely linked; calligraphy encompasses both text and image. Two local artists, Wesley Clark and Kate Fitzpatrick, attempt something similar in their current exhibitions. Ultimately, though, both make work that is primarily visual.

The pieces in Fitzpatrick’s show at IA&A at Hillyer, “There Is No Anagram for the Word Anagram,” employ several formats, but mostly consist of letter-like scrawls across multiple wooden panels. “Signs of Myriorama” comprises 100 same-size vertical tiles upon which tiny black glyphs snake and whorl horizontally, sometimes overlaid with red or white ones. The handsome, landscape-like pictures of the “Transposition” series cluster primarily white characters atop inky gray-black backdrops. “Out of Words” arranges blue-black panels of different sizes around a large central one, with the orbiting squares progressively smaller and more distant from each other. In this cosmos of text, the white squiggles become sparer at the outskirts, like stars at the edge of a galaxy.

There are also two interactive pieces, one of which is a Scrabble-like board atop which participants can position acrylic tiles embellished with a single blue squiggle. The pseudo-game is literally a myriorama, which is a picture made of interchangeable pieces that can be arranged in multiple ways.

A few of the nonsymbolic symbols on the acrylic tiles resemble Japanese hiragana. That’s probably a coincidence, but the doodles of what Fitzpatrick’s statement calls “my own sign system” do evoke the experience of encountering an unknown language. Viewing her show is akin to a stroll through a foreign city whose banners, placards and logos both beckon and bewilder.

The texts in Wesley Clark’s “Are We There Yet” are in English, but so densely layered that they’re rarely legible. The artist’s exuberant show at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center consists of pencil drawings and a few lithographic prints, all abstract, black and white, and intentionally messy and overloaded.

Clark, who recently concluded a residency at Pyramid Atlantic, is known for sculpture that combines and reworks found objects, most often made of wood. One of his major creations is “My Big Black America,” which assembled hundreds of salvaged boards and branches inside an outline of the contiguous United States. The same national shape appears in this show, constructed not of wooden pieces but of smeary, overlapping graphite gestures. More common, however, are rough-edge rectangles made of brawny pencil strokes and dynamic cross-hatching and sometimes whitened by erasures and abrasions. Subtraction can be as central as addition to Clark’s drawings.

A single word, such as “resolute” or “control,” occasionally emerges from the welter of built-up and worn-down graphite marks. Tellingly, though, the print titled “A Life of Effort” is a black block whose individual strokes can be perceived only where they protrude past the rectangular boundary. In Clark’s symbolic writing system, specific words and phrases acquiesce to the overpowering whole.

Kate Fitzpatrick: There Is No Anagram for the Word Anagram Through July 31 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.

Wesley Clark: Are We There Yet Through July 31 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.

The photographic portraits of African American schoolchildren in Blu Murphy’s Target Gallery show have two notable visual characteristics: They often conceal the subjects’ faces, and their crisp black-and-white imagery is spattered with colorful painted accents that splash beyond the recycled frames and onto the walls. This strategy is both graphically arresting and thematically pointed, as is revealed by the show’s title, “Le Drip: The Uncontainable Sauce of Black Essence.”

Brandy “Blu” Murphy is a D.C. artist who teaches at a school in the city’s southeast quadrant. She enlisted her students to make these celebratory pictures, most of which depict youngsters whose attire includes a label or button that reads “I Am Art.” The overpainting, bright and direct and in a single color or color family, amplifies the sense of youthful exuberance.

Yet juvenile vitality is just the contemporary part of the story. The principal subjects are often joined by others, sometimes other children but just as often figures from Black history. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and pioneering 6-year-old school integrator Ruby Bridges are among the racial-justice champions who appear in the backgrounds and margins of the collaged photo-paintings. Murphy’s lively tributes to Black essence are rooted in painful history and extraordinary courage.

Blu Murphy: Le Drip: The Uncontainable Sauce of Black Essence Through July 17 at Target Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

The title of Tom Sliter’s Multiple Exposures Gallery show, “Cold Warriors,” acknowledges the theme of his elegant black-and-white photographs: American military aircraft of the mid-20th century. The pictures themselves, however, are often less explicit. These high-contrast close-ups, all but one shot under open skies, can be sleekly aerodynamic or tersely geometric. A few of them convey little more than curves of shimmering white on deep black backdrops.

Made at California’s Castle Air Museum, Arizona’s Pima Air and Space Museum, and other locations, the photographs appear more futuristic than at least some of their subjects. Propellers are visible in several of the pictures, dating the older planes to before the jet age. The photos were shot from ground level, and in some cases depict craft that are no longer airworthy.

In an email, Sliter noted that he would have liked to see the planes in the air. But his photos portray the objects less as flying machines than as art objects, ready-made sculptures characterized by rounded contours and reflective surfaces. The photographer sets off these pictorial elements with dramatic skies, mostly dark but punctuated by backlighted clouds and, in one case, what appears to be a low-hanging moon. Where pilots must execute split-second maneuvers with no time to spare, Sliter patiently waited for just the right moment to make an exposure that ideally juxtaposes metal and sky.

Tom Sliter: Cold Warriors Through July 24 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly used a male pronoun to describe the artist Blu Murphy. Murphy uses she/her pronouns. The article has been corrected.