An artist swimming in a sea of emo­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY MARK JENK­INS www.mor­ton­fin­

In the self-por­traits of “Swim,” Charles Wil­liams presents him­self in gog­gles and other aquatic para­pher­na­lia, his mus­cles taut and his skin bur­nished. The South Carolina artist, how­ever, isn’t brag­ging about his prow­ess in the wa­ter. He ac­tu­ally has a pow­er­ful fear of it, in part be­cause of a child­hood in­ci­dent in which he nearly drowned. The three se­ries gath­ered in thisMor­ton Fine Arts show are quite dif­fer­ent, but all ad­dress Wil­liams’s fraught re­la­tion­ship with the sea.

The largest works are re­al­is­tic paint­ings of yel­low sand and frothy surf un­der night skies. These are based on photos Wil­liams took while wad­ing in the wa­ter and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing — the show’s cat­a­logue re­ports — “shal­low breaths, a quick­ened heart­beat and trem­bling hands.” That anx­i­ety is not con­veyed by the pic­tures, which are calm and pre­cisely ren­dered, even if the black­ness above the wa­ter does in­di­cate that this is no day at the beach.

Even darker are the small oils of waves at night­time, en­tirely in black. Thewater’s mo­tion and con­tours are de­picted en­tirely by line and tex­ture, and vis­i­ble only when the light hits at a suit­able an­gle. These paint­ings re­sem­ble en­grav­ings and bas-re­lief sculp­tures.

Although Wil­liams is no im­pres­sion­ist, the self-por­traits area bit looser than his large surf pic­tures. Most ofthe­mare painte­donMy­lar, which lacks the ab­sorbency of can­vas and thus gives a more im­me­di­ate ap­pear­ance. Sheer white, ap­par­ently rep­re­sent­ing harsh sun­light, oblit­er­ates ar­eas of the im­age. These ephemeral qual­i­ties, how­ever, are coun­tered by the strength of the artist’s fea­tures and form. Even when the sub­ject is sim­ply wa­ter and air, Wil­liams’s style al­ways feels sub­stan­tial.

1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787.

NoelleK. Tan

Driv­ing across the United States with her cam­era, Noelle K. Tan doesn’t sim­ply cap­ture fleet­ing mo­ments of now. The sepi­a­toned, black-and-white pieces in her show at Civil­ian Art Projects, “Ex­pe­di­tion Jour­nals: United States of Amer­ica, Vol. 1,” are built from mul­ti­ple im­ages, linked the­mat­i­cally. Thus “Civil Rights” com­bines sev­eral no­table lo­ca­tions from the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the sites and sig­ni­fiers of the Amer­i­can West in­clude gi­ant se­quoias, theGolden SpikeNa­tion­alHis­toric Site and the half-buried sedans of Cadil­lac Ranch.

If there’s some­thing of Ker­ouac in the lo­cal artist’s road-trip ap­proach, Tan’s cur­rent work also is inspired by Diderot’s en­cy­clo­pe­dia, a mon­u­ment of the Euro­pean En­light­en­ment. That opus was di­vided among history, po­etry and phi­los­o­phy, and Tan gen­er­ally com­bines three im­ages se­lected to em­body those fields. Of­ten the third el­e­ment is smaller and ex­posed onto a liq­uid emul­sion painted atop the other two pic­tures.

Even with­out con­sid­er­ing the sub­ject mat­ter, these 12 col­lages hint at history. Tan is not one of those pho­tog­ra­phers who ex­per­i­ments with the medium’s ear­li­est tech­nolo­gies, but she does shoot with film, a near-ob­so­lete ma­te­rial. She ma­nip­u­lates the neg­a­tives in the dark­room, some­times us­ing over­ex­po­sure to sim­u­late high-con­trast 19th­cen­tury photos. She also stains the pa­per to give the pic­tures the look of snap­shots pulled from a drawer or a fam­ily al­bum af­ter un­told decades.

Tan’s sen­si­bil­ity is con­tem­po­rary, yet her tech­nique­makes vis­i­ble her in­ter­est in gaz­ing through

the lens of the past.

TheDraw­ing Room

Many of the works in­Wohl­farth Gal­leries’ “The Draw­ing Room” are fig­ure sketches ex­e­cuted at a life-draw­ing class that meets in the nearby Brook­land Arts Walk. These in­clude Ilona Royce-Smithkin’s suite of 14 draw­ings, sen­su­ously mod­eled in san­guine (red chalk) with oc­ca­sional touches of blue, and Don­ald David­son’s two starker ren­der­ings in brown with yel­low high­lights, which are tech­ni­cally not draw­ings since they’re wa­ter­col­ors. But sev­eral of the 11 par­tic­i­pants are in another, less nat­u­ral­is­tic class.

Lisa Far­rell is show­ing char­coal botan­i­cal draw­ings and a set of pen­cil con­cept draw­ings for “Belle,” a chil­dren’s book about a but­ter­fly who falls off a Dutch still life and must find her way back into the pic­ture; there’s also one of the tale’s el­e­gant fin­ished il­lus­tra­tions. DanNei­d­hardt sug­gests na­ture in a char­coal draw­ing of hive-like cells, al­most glow­ing in an ex­panse of black. Most ex­pan­sive are sev­eral large ab­strac­tions by Ellyn Weiss, who melds graphite and char­coal with acrylic paint. Pit­ting black scrawls against gray drips, these pic­tures are monochro­matic in color but vol­canic in ges­ture.

Michelle Peter­son-Al­ban­doz

Work­ing mostly with re­claimed wood, Michelle Peter­son-Al­ban­doz con­structs paint­ing-like sculp­tures. Ar­eas of raw and painted lum­ber al­ter­nate in pat­terns that re­call the styles of artists who (usu­ally) daubed rather than built. The Chicagoan’s latest show at Long View Gallery in­cludes some sim­pler, higher-con­trast as­sem­blages, fea­tur­ing brighter col­ors and ele­men­tary forms. There are di­a­monds, plus signs and X’s, clearly distin­guished from their sur­round­ings. Just as iconic, but gen­tler in hues, is a moon made from slats of brown-and white-painted wood.

Per­haps run­ning low on sal­vaged lum­ber, Peter­son-Al­ban­doz has turned to Amer­i­can flags, which she places un­der wooden lat­tices. The ban­ners are clearly leg­i­ble, but pulse and shim­mer through the frame­works, which al­ter the stars and stripes from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. In its bold­ness and di­rect­ness, the artist’s re­cent work evokes 1960s pop and min­i­mal­ism. Yet the sub­tle vari­a­tions of color and tex­ture in the re­pur­posed wood re­main es­sen­tial to the work’s vis­ual ap­peal, as the ma­te­rial does to its mean­ing: Peter­son-Al­ban­doz sees her art as en­dow­ing new life to some­thing that once was alive.


TOP: “Lost and Found 4,” by Charles Wil­liams. ABOVE: Wil­liams presents him­self in gog­gles and other aquatic para­pher­na­lia in the ex­hi­bi­tion “Swim,” at Mor­ton Fine Art. All the pieces of the se­ries ad­dress Wil­liams’s fraught re­la­tion­ship with the ocean.

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