In the galleries: A churning flow of images and ideas

In the galleries: A churning flow of images and ideas

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Local painter Kate Sable’s second Pazo Fine Art show, “New River,” is named for the waterway that flows through her childhood hometown, Narrows, in southwestern Virginia. But the imagery in her pictures derives more from imagination than observation. Even the rare canvases with geographical titles, such as “Mystical Mountain Marvel,” are less stylized landscapes than fanciful riffs on common terrestrial features.

Although Sable’s style is not altogether representational, it sidesteps the rules of mid-20th-century pure abstraction. Many of the forms simulate volume and depth, and evoke such rounded organic objects as fruits, wings or bodily organs. Such pictures as “Big Mouth” bear some resemblance to the things mentioned in their titles, even if the depictions are far from literal. Day-Glo pinks and reds provide buzzing energy, while their artificiality undermines the hints of naturalism.

The older paintings displayed on Sable’s website indicate that the artist has never employed hard-edge geometric designs. But her earlier work does emphasize recurring forms and allover compositions. The “New River” pictures, made in 2022 and 2023, are looser and less symmetrical, with mottled patterns shoehorned into furrows or patchwork sections. The paintings often focus on some sort of core: Ovals and crescents rotate around a central shape, which can appear to be a void. The eye is drawn into a rounded, dark-colored space, as if trying to peer into a dimly lighted cave.

Talking to a visitor about her previous show, Sable called some of the pictures “diaristic,” and such titles as “Troubles on My Mind” and “You Only Have to Hold Me” suggest the same of these newer paintings. Yet the artist transforms her private feelings into colors and contours whose appeal is immediate but whose meaning is private. “New River’s” terrain is entirely personal.

Kate Sable: New River Through Jan. 13 at Pazo Fine Art, 1932 Ninth St. NW (entrance at 1917 9½ St. NW). pazofineart.com. 571-315-5279.

Sanah Brown-Bowers

Texas artist Sanah Brown-Bowers grew up in New York City, surrounded by bears. Care Bears and gummy bears, that is. Both feature in one of the expansive “family altars” the painter and collagist has installed in her Touchstone Gallery show. “Bloodlines” also includes an ode to a Black barbershop and a tribute to Brown-Bowers’s four brothers, which clusters fetish objects from such boyish enthusiasms as hip-hop, comic books, action figures, and kung fu and Japanese monster movies.

The artist employs frames that include shelves on which she stacks a wide array of family talismans and consumer products. Familiar objects are “given an urban African American makeover,” according to her statement. Brown-Bowers isn’t just an assembler, however. She’s also a photorealist painter who in 2022 earned an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Precise renderings of family members, such as the matriarch pictured in the ursine-themed “Mama Bear,” are at the center of her mixed-media tableaux.

Not all of Brown-Bowers’s artworks incorporate 3D objects. “Just Breathe,” a painting of the artist’s mother during her final days, is simpler but no less suffused with familial emotion. The feelings Brown-Bowers has for her culture and upbringing are channeled here into a portrait of a single, shining, beloved face.

Sanah Brown-Bowers: Bloodlines Through Jan. 7 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. touchstonegallery.com. 202-682-4125.

Joseph Keiffer

Consisting largely of realist pastoral landscapes, Joseph Keiffer’s latest Gallery Neptune & Brown show, “As Far As One Can See,” has a serene disposition. Even a few paintings of street scenes in New York, the city where the artist was born in 1952 and where he maintains a studio today, emphasize stillness over bustle.

The most kinetic picture is a still life of enamelware — a common Keiffer subject — in which a cup, a ladle, a spoon and other objects appear to be floating downward through space toward several stacks of kindred containers. If the mildly fanciful scenario appears unsettled, that’s mostly by comparison to the other paintings.

End of carousel

Keiffer’s “quest to interrupt the passage of time,” as a gallery note puts it, is palpable in all his work. But it’s particularly vivid in this posed vignette, which celebrates motion as it freezes it.

Trained as an abstractionist, Keiffer soon switched sides, abandoning the example of mid-20th-century New York art in favor of the Hudson River School of a century earlier. The painter tends to depict vistas that are less grand than those favored by his predecessors, but are just as luminous. Typical is “Winter’s Eve,” in which the orange and yellow of a low-on-the-horizon sunset is reflected in a stream that meanders toward the bottom of the composition. The moment is placid, but the light is dramatic.

Joseph Keiffer: As Far As One Can See Through Jan. 6 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. galleryneptunebrown.com. 202-986-1200.

Leanne Fink

Also a landscape painter, Leanne Fink often portrays places near her Northern Virginia home. But pictures of sites along the Potomac River share the Athenaeum’s walls with views of more epic scenery from parks in the Western United States. While these are certainly “National Treasures,” the show’s title, more delicate Fink subjects such as cherry blossom trees near the Tidal Basin also qualify.

Fink’s paintings are less classical in style than Keiffer’s, but they follow similar compositional gambits. The majority of these pictures feature water, and its flow often provides a focal point. Rivers and streams curve through the predominantly horizontal panoramas, although Fink switches to vertical formats for waterfalls, geysers and canyons.

Such upward-thrusting landmarks as Bryce Canyon are ideal for Fink’s style, which closely arrays contrasting hues in the manner of multicolored rock. The artist melds oil pigments with cold wax, a less common technique than using hot wax, to add depth and texture. She also gently outlines some of the forms, giving the paintings a drawing-like quality. This approach gives a sense of intimacy to all the places Fink paints, whether mundane or sweeping.

Leanne Fink: National Treasures Through Jan. 7 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. nvfaa.org. 703-548-0035.

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