Where have all the people gone?
For decades, Val Lewton (19372015) was an exhibition designer at what is now as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and he showed his paintings at the thennearby Studio Gallery. He often documented that neighborhood, and a few downtown Washington pictures are included in the memorial exhibition split between Addison/Ripley Fine Art and the American University Museum. Yet “From Hollywood to Breezewood” takes its title from places far from Eighth and F streets NW.
Hollywood refers to the artist’s upbringing as the son of a producer, also named Val Lewton, known for cult B-movies such as 1943’s “I Walked With a Zombie.” Breezewood is the Pennsylvania highway junction where the painter found inspiration in big rigs, truck stops and even traffic lights.
As a chronicler of the commonplace, Lewton also investigated the Washington suburbs, notably Dale City. Tract homes, and the cars parked outside them, appear often in his work. So do demolition sites and industrial structures, some of which he painted again and again from different vantages. The two shows include eight views, mostly details, of a hulking hospital identified as Bee Bee. At AU, there are a halfdozen renderings of paint cans in the artist’s studio.
Lewton’s loosely realistic style recalls Edward Hopper’s, but there are no nighthawks and no diners in Lewton’s unpeopled world. His landscapes often appear neglected or even abandoned. (This might show the influence of seeing so much of downtown Washington torn down while he worked there.) Cars stand in for their occupants, notably in “Whitehurst Freeway,” a huge 1970 canvas whose dull shades of red and green resemble the hues of a faded snapshot.
Is it just a typical rush hour or a mass exodus from devastation? Many of Lewton’s paintings have a gritty, everyday quality. But pictures such as “Exxon’s Last Stand,” depicting the aftermath of a fire, project a zombie-movie vibe. Val Lewton: From Hollywood to Breezewood Through July 13 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-338-5180.
www.addisonripleyfineart.com. Through Aug. 13 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202885-1300. american.edu/museum.
Some years later and a few states away, photographer Jason Falchook is similarly drawn to the ordinary and slightly shabby. His “Indivisible From the Sheen of Plastic,” at Civilian Art Projects, gazes intently at architectural minutiae, often mundane and graceless. Falchook’s pictures could show Anytown of a certain vintage, but all were made in Brooklyn, where the Corcoran graduate lives.
The photographer is keen on signs, but he shoots them from behind, so their messages are unavailable. (One is draped to further conceal its content.) Nature is generally absent, save in the form of sunlight and its effects. Shadows sketch lines atop existing patterns, notably a set of steps painted, alternately, red and white.
Such blocks of strong color are common in these untitled pictures, whose blue bars, scarlet rectangles and lone yellow swoop suggest an accidental history of hard-edged modernist color painting. But line dominates in other compositions, which use fencing and siding as elements in found drawings. Falchook’s photos turn flimsy facades and decrepit details into ideals of urban form. Jason Falchook: Indivisible From the Sheen of Plastic Through July 22 at Civilian Art Projects, 4718 14th St. NW. 202-607-3804. civilianartprojects.com.
Some historical theme parks were built from scratch, others erected on genuine foundations. Lewis Colbert lives in one of the latter, Philadelphia, which inspired the decidedly mixed-media sculpture in “two hundred fortyone years,” his VisArts show. The artist’s vision of 1776 arises from both Colonial history and the tourist-oriented simulations of the Independence Hall area.
Using contemporary technology, Colbert makes precise replicas of items from the 18th century, complemented by a few more recent pieces. Most are hewed from wood, but the artist contrasts actual, veneer and engineered forest products with translucent crimson urethane. Thus a fire extinguisher is all wood, while a wooden ax is embedded in a plastic tree stump. The juxtaposition was inspired by that fiction about young George Washington’s inability to tell a lie.
Colbert isn’t arguing that American history is a falsehood, just that it’s incomplete and oversimplified. Thus, “The Colonist,” cast in red urethane, in which a hand rests contentedly on a waistcoat over a plump belly. The 241-year-old man appears as satisfied with his well-fed prosperity as his ancestors are with their national myth. Lewis Colbert: two hundred fortyone years Through July 16 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
A day’s worth of skies in a single room, Jenny Walton’s installation wraps the three main walls of the District of Columbia Arts Center’s gallery in air, clouds and twilight. “In the Space of a Day” includes seven graphite or silverpoint drawings of cloud formations, but its main event is 31 vertical panels that are figuratively and literally light. They’re made of rice paper, painted with watercolor that saturates the gauzy material and designed to flap in the artificial wind of the air conditioning.
The piece dawns with black and then adds yellow. Most of the panels are simply blue on white, with forms that seem to billow from one to the next. Most dramatic are the last few, in which pink, red and purple lead back to black. This evocation of nature is in the tradition of Romanticism but also draws on post-painterly abstraction and conceptual art. Gazing heavenward, Walton aims to capture grand scale and transience. In the Space of a Day: Jenny Walton Through July 16 at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. 202-462-7833. dcartscenter.org. email@example.com
Val Lewton, “Breezewood & Truck Stop #1” (2011), on view through July 13 in “From Hollywood to Breezewood” at Addison/Ripley Fine Art.