Where have all the peo­ple gone?

The Washington Post Sunday - - THEATER - BY MARK JENK­INS

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.

Ja­son Fal­chook

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.

Lewis Col­bert

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.

Jenny Wal­ton

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. style@wash­post.com


Val Lew­ton, “Breeze­wood & Truck Stop #1” (2011), on view through July 13 in “From Hol­ly­wood to Breeze­wood” at Ad­di­son/Ri­p­ley Fine Art.

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