The Washington Post Sunday
A fleeting moment can leave an indelible impression
The image that inspired the title of Marie-B Cilia De Amicis’s Washington Printmakers Gallery show, “Moments Exceptionnels,” arranged itself neatly for her digital camera. An Ethiopian woman stands in front of a young boy, her left arm extended in perfectly perpendicular contrast to her uptight frame. But the layout of lines and shapes is secondary to the voluptuous colors: The woman’s headscarf, the child’s shirt and the high stucco wall behind them are all in close shades of rose and salmon, set off by the deep green of a window frame. It’s a visual rhapsody in pink, composed in an instant.
The well-traveled De Amicis is a longtime Washingtonian with a complicated Mediterraneanregion pedigree. Her pictures in this exhibition carry the viewer to Nepal, Israel and beyond. The Tunisia-born artist is drawn to hot countries with luminous palettes. Vivid color is key to nearly all the photos, and sometimes it’s underscored by repeated forms: A young Cambodian woman works intently to make a bright red confection whose circular contour is echoed by multiple other rounds within the frame.
The photographer uses computer effects to add texture to her images, and in one case to drain some of the natural hues: A young Turkmen bride dressed in traditional attire steps out from under a canopy that’s held up by a man in a Western-style suit. The wedding garb is accented in red, gold and fuchsia, but the symbolic awning and its holder have been rendered black-andwhite, suggesting a monochromatic future for the woman. In a De Amicis picture, color is sheer joy, and its lack can be ominous.
Marie-B Cilia De Amicis: Moments Exceptionnels Through Sept. 26 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1641 Wisconsin Ave NW.
“Third what” is the literal translation of “Tertium Quid,” the Latin phrase that provides the title of the three-artist show at the Korean Cultural Center. The term is appropriately openended, since the participants devise pieces that are minimalist and mysteriously allusive. Hae Won Sohn uses gypsum cement to construct small abstract sculptures that resemble rock and bone. Yoory Jung makes paintings and prints that emulate the surfaces of traditional Korean celadon pottery. Jaejoon Jang works with video and found objects to create the gentlest of transformations. Both Sohn and Jang also manipulate simple sheets of paper, defining modest sculptural forms with cuts, folds and crinkles.
The artists, all U.S.-based and born in Korea between 1990 and 1992, whisper rather than shout. The only piece here with a hint of violence is Jang’s short video of a hand lighting a match, shown on a cellphone with a broken screen. (He has also contributed two assemblages that include cat skulls, but the craniums are fake.) Sohn builds impact with repetition, filling a section of floor with an archipelago of craggy tan islets. Some of Jung’s paintings are imposingly large, but their green-on-green patterns are muted and require close inspection to comprehend.
In its use of oblique strategies, Sohn, Jang and Jung’s work is akin to ambient music. The artists take ordinary things, focus on small details and prompt viewers to gaze beyond what’s on display. The “third what” can be found at the edge of perception, or only in the imagination.
Tertium Quid Through Sept. 27 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Judith M. Pratt
The tightly interlocking lines in Judith M. Pratt’s abstract drawing-paintings suggest tectonic faults and topographical maps, which the local artist intends. But “(Un)disclosed,” her show at Tephra ICA at Signature, also refers to something else that underlies Virginia: racism.
The pictures are divided between two series. “Piedmont” features white lines on singlecolor backdrops, most often black. The works in “Station” are similar in design but larger, more complex and richer in hue, with gray and black marks underscored by shadowing in red, yellow and blue. The first group refers to the legacy of slavery and was inspired by the Charlottesville native’s discovery that the area where she was raised once had the largest concentration of enslaved people in the United States. The second series, whose title refers to Christianity’s Stations of the Cross, memorializes Black victims of racist violence. Works in both series are on paper made of domestic cotton, a reminder of that crop’s role in the oppression of Black people.
The intricate patterns in Pratt’s compositions are immersive and hypnotic; the multicolor ones appear to oscillate. Rendered more regularly, they could appear mechanical, but every line is clearly hand-drawn. That gives the pictures emotional intensity to match their visual depth.
Judith M. Pratt: “(Un)disclosed” Through Sept. 21 at Tephra ICA at Signature, 11850 Freedom Dr.,
Virginia artist and author Robert Schultz touches on themes similar to Pratt’s, but he writes history in a rather different medium: chlorophyll. His Athenaeum show, “Memorial Leaves,” uses plant and tree leaves to make new prints of historical photos related to the Civil War and one of its most famous witnesses, Walt Whitman. Some of Schultz’s plant-photo collages are made in collaboration with a contemporary photographer, Binh Danh; as well as with such 19th-century Washington lensmen as Alexander Gardner; and his onetime boss, Matthew Brady (who often received credit for Gardner’s work).
The pictures document history, depicting Black Union soldiers and a family in Richmond whose members were classified as “contraband,” meaning they had escaped from slavery. Schultz adds another sort of meaning by incorporating talismans of historical locations. He prints with leaves from trees that probably witnessed the Battle of Fredericksburg, and from a hosta plant in the back garden of the New Jersey house where Whitman lived his final years. (The poet’s family moved him from D.C. to Camden after he suffered a stroke in 1873.)
Whitman is a crucial influence on Schultz’s project, in part because of his prophecy that after the Civil War, its dead would inhabit “every breath we draw.” Schultz offers his prints as an alternative to the Confederate monuments that are finally being removed. It’s fitting that, rather than flaunt the solidity of marble and bronze, Schultz’s memorials appear as wispy and fragile as American unity.