Syn­thetic con­sumer prod­ucts prove to be a nat­u­ral medium

The Washington Post Sunday - - THEATER - BY MARK JENKINS

Back when fine art’s su­pe­ri­or­ity to pop­u­lar and folk va­ri­eties went un­ques­tioned, its ma­te­ri­als also were ex­alted: Oil paint and mar­ble were con­sid­ered in­her­ently more no­ble than com­mon­place stuff. That hi­er­ar­chy be­gan to be chal­lenged a cen­tury ago, yet a piece such as Jen Noone’s “Va­ca­tion” is still a bit star­tling.

The art­work, on dis­play in WAS Gallery’s “To Be a Thing,” is a field of blue streaks, waves and frozen bub­bles, mounted hor­i­zon­tally on a white pedestal. The blankly gleam­ing sur­face re­calls mid20th-cen­tury Cal­i­for­nia art, in­spired by sleek, candy-col­ored ob­jects such as surf­boards and sports cars. But Noone didn’t use fiber­glass or auto-body paint; she painted “Va­ca­tion” with ap­pli­ca­tions of Suave Ocean Breeze liq­uid body wash.

Noone and the show’s other par­tic­i­pant, Travis Childers, are in­trigued by how syn­thetic con­sumer prod­ucts pay trib­ute to a nat­u­ral world that’s in re­treat. Childers sim­u­lates bi­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­ena with ev­ery­day, man­made things, such as the plas­tic pen caps he stud­ded into an orb he ti­tled “Spore.” He also em­ploys model-rail­road fake veg­e­ta­tion to make minia­ture land­scapes mounted atop a cin­der block, a pro­ces­sion of bricks or a sin­gle pen­cil. Noone’s con­tri­bu­tion to the fake for­est is tiny but ac­tual Al­berta spruce trees, cov­ered in green “Shim­mer­ing Pine” wax from the Yan­kee Can­dle line.

Do­mes­tic mer­chan­dise pitched to women is Noone’s spe­cialty. She makes stripe paint­ings with Essie nail pol­ish, iden­ti­fy­ing the var­i­ous shades, which in­clude Guilty Plea­sures and Meet Me at Sun­set. Her vari­a­tion on earth art is an ar­ray of stones dolled up with foun­da­tion, bronzer and L’Oréal Paris True Match Lumi Liq­uid Glow Il­lu­mi­na­tor. Na­ture can al­ways be im­proved upon.

Both artists are in­debted to Dada and sur­re­al­ism, but the piece most in those tra­di­tion­bust­ing tra­di­tions is Childers’s “Por­cu­pine Shirt.” It’s a sim­ple white gar­ment prick­ling with barbs that turn out to be push­pins, pressed out­ward from in­side the fab­ric. Like Meret Op­pen­heim’s 1936 “Break­fast in Fur” — a teacup, saucer and spoon cov­ered in gazelle hair — Childers’s pointed con­struc­tion gives the ev­ery­day a hint of the feral.

To Be a Thing On view through Aug. 26 at WAS Gallery, 5110 Ridge­field Rd., Bethesda. 202-361-5223. was­gallery.com.

Strictly Paint­ing 11

Paint still rules in the 11th in­stall­ment of “Strictly Paint­ing,” but the McLean Project for the Arts’ bi­en­nial sur­vey is not strict about bar­ring other in­gre­di­ents. The ex­hi­bi­tion, at the MPA’s tem­po­rary Chain Bridge Gallery, fea­tures ink, crayon, pen­cil and a wealth of col­laged ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing wire and junk mail. The show’s con­cep­tual coup, Steven Dob­bin’s “The Col­ors of Our Lives,” is a sculp­ture about paint­ing: a grid of re­claimed can lids caked with dried and mostly white pig­ment.

The 32-per­son se­lec­tion fea­tures no pop art, no post­painterly ab­strac­tion and lit­tle rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In­stead, most of the par­tic­i­pants ex­plore tex­ture and sur­face. Maggie Gourlay lay­ers white over a wall­pa­per-like print, re­vealed by a tiny gash in the paint. John H. Adams ren­ders tec­tonic pat­terns in gray and gold, di­vided by white bands. Carol Ann Reed com­bines tex­tile-like mo­tifs with sketchy forms in muted aqua and red. Joanna Kent’s two black pic­tures fea­ture bark­like grain, ori­ented ver­ti­cally on one and hor­i­zon­tally on the other. Kent’s duo is one of 10 sets by a sin­gle artist in the show, which seems de­signed to show­case an abun­dance of small, kin­dred ges­tures.

Strictly Paint­ing 11 On view through Aug. 12 at MPA at Chain Bridge Gallery, 1446 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. 703-790-1953. mpaart.org.

A Bird’s Eye View

The three lo­cal artists in Betty Mae Kramer Gallery’s cur­rent show are well known and reg­u­larly ex­hib­ited in the area. Still, it’s in­ter­est­ing to see their na­ture-in­spired work to­gether in “A Bird’s Eye View” — even if it doesn’t all quite fit that ti­tle.

The most em­phat­i­cally air­borne en­try is Su­san Hostetler’s wall-mounted swoop of 30 avian fig­urines, sculpted of clay and criss­crossed with dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns. The artist is also show­ing pen­cil draw­ings of birds, em­bel­lished with gouache. These are on lay­ers of My­lar to add depth, plac­ing the like­nesses some­where be­tween con­ven­tional pic­tures and the fully three­d­i­men­sional ce­ramic ones.

Like Hostetler, Bev­erly Ress ex­e­cutes draw­ing-paint­ings that break the pic­ture plane. Ress’s pic­tures, small and pre­cise, float on vast ex­panses of creamy pa­per that the artist usu­ally punc­tu­ates with in­tri­cate cut­ting. She of­ten de­picts or­nitho­log­i­cal spec­i­mens, but there’s only one of those in this group. A study of two orbs is on un­sliced pa­per, while “Knit” in­ter­twines sev­ered strands. “Blue Ma­caw” flut­ters far­thest into space, with a cutout spi­ral col­ored the same hue as the bird.

Dalya Luttwak takes her in­spi­ra­tion from roots, not birds, and works with steel, not pa­per or plas­tic. Yet her stand­ing sculp­tures com­ple­ment the other art­works, thanks to shared con­cerns with nat­u­ral and ab­stract forms. Painted gold, some­times with black ac­cents, Luttwak’s three pieces trans­mute the or­ganic, yet pre­serve some­thing of na­ture’s way.

A Bird’s Eye View On view through Aug. 18 at Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, One Vet­er­ans Place, Sil­ver Spring. 301565-3805. bet­ty­maekramer­gallery.com.

Émi­gré Artists

In one of Anna Davis’s large, mo­saic-like paint­ings at Charles Krause Re­port­ing Fine Art Gallery, pas­sen­gers stream off a jet­liner. Their ar­rival point is not spec­i­fied, but three of the four con­trib­u­tors to “Oh Say Can You See: Émi­gré Artists in Amer­ica” are for­eign­born Wash­ing­to­ni­ans. If they’re not from coun­tries cov­ered by Pres­i­dent Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial travel ban, their in­ter­est in the topic is un­der­stand­able.

The Swedish-born Davis’s other pic­ture is a well-pop­u­lated pic­nic scene whose rev­el­ers in­clude Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton. The iden­ti­cal fig­ures lined up in Mikray Pida’s paint­ings are univer­sal sym­bols for man, ar­rayed on flaglike fields; Pida is an Uighur from the deserts of West­ern China, by birth an out­sider in a reg­i­mented so­ci­ety. Earth tones ground Joan Bel­mar’s work, in­spired by his na­tive Chile; these paint­ings, less openly po­lit­i­cal than some of his out­put, sug­gest the in­flu­ence of Joan Miró.

Also fea­tured is an as­sem­blage by KM Ramich, who makes com­mon cause with the other three with a pro­tec­tive vest. Rather than bul­let­proof, the gear is beaded with the words “bigot proof.” It’s a nod of wel­come to new­com­ers to the United States, what­ever sort of free­dom they seek.

Man-made items pay trib­ute to a nat­u­ral world that’s in re­treat

Oh Say Can You See: Émi­gré Artists in Amer­ica On view through Aug. 15 at Charles Krause Re­port­ing Fine Art Gallery at Dacha Loft, 1602 Sev­enth St. NW, sec­ond floor. 202638-3612. charleskrause­fin­eart.com.

JEN NOONE/WAS GALLERY

Jen Noone’s “Va­ca­tion,” on view in “To Be a Thing” at WAS Gallery. Noone and artist Travis Childers use con­sumer prod­ucts in re-cre­ations of bi­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­ena.

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