The Washington Post Sunday
Renee Stout’s fiery visions at Hemphill draw inspiration from Jimi Hendrix
The most incendiary picture in Renee Stout’s show at Hemphill Fine Arts depicts a human heart within a house afire, with a slightly darker shade of red. The image’s power and mystery are not unexpected, but its directness is. Stout often exhibits intricate found-object sculptures that combine primeval spirituality with obsolete technology. They seem designed to receive the past from the ether — or the ethereal from the past. But “When 6 Is 9: Visions of a Parallel Universe” is made up of mostly paintings, their subjects rarefied or abstracted.
The blazing heart picture, “Red House in Black Rain,” is one of two sparked by the Jimi Hendrix song “Red House,” and it’s dedicated to him. Another of his songs, “If 6 Was 9,” is the source of the show’s title. Among the show’s other inspirations are the artist’s reaction to the current political climate and the counsel of artist Sean Scully, who encouraged Stout to explore nonrepresentational painting for a 2017 show at his New York studio.
“The show is pretty bloody,” Stout acknowledged at a recent gallery talk. Gory red smears the bottom of “Bellona (Roman Goddess of War),” and three small paintings resemble crimson droplets on slides under a microscope. Flame and blood can represent violence, but also essence and purity. “No Lie in Her Fire” is the title Stout gives to a rendering of a fireball partly cloaked in thick black smoke.
The selection offers only a few assemblages, and one is paired with a painting. “The Guardian,” a 1996 piece that incorporates a bird skull, stands next to a 2018 picture in which the skull-based creature becomes one of four “Guardians of the Parallel Universe.” The others include a snake and an antique racist doll, entities that might be seen as sinister or offensive, but here are transformed into magical protectors. The potent can be either good or evil, or perhaps both simultaneously.
Instead of the outmoded radios and televisions that Stout often uses, this array features a set of archaic mobile phones. Their now-useless cases have been remade into frames for small portraits the artist labels “passports.” What sort of journey do these curious documents authorize? One that is, whatever the destination, powerful and mysterious.
Renee Stout: When 6 Is 9: Visions of a Parallel Universe Through Dec. 15 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW.
The seven single-artist showcases of Arlington Arts Center’s “Fall Solos 2018” (plus a separate one upstairs) aren’t linked thematically. Yet most of them involve some sort of history, often personal. Nekisha Durrett multiplies a family keepsake into a field of four-leaf clovers, white and ceramic rather than green and vegetal. Aimee Gilmore fills a gallery with motherhood-related things, including a baby bottle remade in fuchsia chrome, a huge print of breast milk spattered on Mylar and a mirror printed with the word “wow” (which inverts to “mom”).
Julia Staples investigates religious heritage with a video interview of a spiritualist and a hanging six-pointed star made of PVC pipe. Tristan Roland mixes plastic objects and high-end wood in pieces that contrast cheaply manufactured goods with skilled craftsmanship. Zoe Friedman’s cut-paper animation sets nature sounds and imagery to gamelan music. Cindy Stockton Moore observes current trends with photos of a gentrifying Philadelphia block, here tinted in homage to the stained-glass windows of the arts center’s Tiffany Gallery.
Artemis Herber deals in ancient and even tectonic history in her paintings on shaped, tattered cardboard. The corrugated material once seemed integral to the artist’s rocky landscapes, but these four elegant pieces transcend their packing-box origins.
Dawn Whitmore ponders recent events, as well as larger concerns, in an installation inspired by a true story about an Aleppo man who stayed inside for more than four years. “A House Is Like a Mind That Holds Everything,” in the second-floor Wyatt Resident Artists Gallery, simulates the war-zone hermit’s home, and also his thoughts. The man read Shakespeare and Molière as he waited for the warfare to end, so Whitmore filled the space with books and recorded voices. The readings of literary texts overlap into an audio Babel. The room and the brain, however overwhelmed, are the only available refuges from utter chaos.
Fall Solos 2018 Through Dec. 15 at the Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
From a distance, Negar Ahkami’s paintings are notable for their aquatic hues and swirling energy. A closer look at “The Taking,” the Arlington artist’s show at the Cody Gallery, reveals both her technique and intent.
Ahkami paints with acrylic glazes infused with glitter and built up with gesso. The raised areas and shiny surfaces suggest ceramics and mosaics, while the designs invoke the artistic heritage of Iran, the Baltimoreborn artist’s ancestral homeland. The pictures’ dynamism reflects “enthrallment with exotic stimuli,” explains a gallery note.
This theme is made explicit in the show’s title piece, a museumlike display of 29 simulated archaeological fragments. Ahkami manufactured the small artifacts to illustrate how motifs and objects from ancient Persia have been incorporated into Western life and art. It’s a worthy lesson, but less enthralling than the oceanic force of the larger paintings.
Negar Ahkami: The Taking Through Dec. 15 at Cody Gallery, Marymount University Ballston Center, 1000 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington.
Meet Your Neighbors
The latest exhibition space in the Brentwood/Hyattsville corridor, Portico Gallery is a hallway outside five artist studios in a new apartment building. To inaugurate the space, curator John Paradiso invited 22 artists from the area to show their work. “Meet the Neighbors” includes many participants whose studios are within walking distance, as well as several from farther up the road and one who works in the District’s Brookland neighborhood.
Glass and ceramics masters are well represented in Portico’s neighborhood. Among those showing here are Alan Binstock, who encases a yellow bloom inside four slabs of blue glass, and Laurel Lukaszewski, whose three porcelain clusters flower in gradations of gray-green. A similar balance of brawn and delicacy characterizes Leslie Berns’s wood-slat assemblage, whose hues also subtly shift, and Dave Mordini’s self-portrait in slices of cast aluminum. The warehouses abutting the nearby CSX tracks increasingly house artists, but their new inhabitants retain something of the area’s industrial legacy.
Meet Your Neighbors Through Dec. 22 at Portico Gallery and Studios, 3807 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood.