In the galleries: Eerie prints and sculpture that hint at ecological ruin

The world is almost entirely black and white in “After Thought — Emotional Landscapes,” a three-artist show at Washington Printmakers Gallery. But not all that black is ink. Erin Owen’s “Dreams of Glacier National Park” haphazardly piles greenish glass balls, partly filled with crude oil, atop crisscrossed wooden dowels. Those rods can be removed, potentially sending the spheres to tumble, crack open and spill their messy black contents.

The Oklahoma-based artist’s work, the exhibition’s centerpiece, is an environmentally minded update of the vintage children’s game KerPlunk. It’s also one of the show’s most explicit ecological statements, and a rare example of sculpture on display at a gallery that specializes in works on paper.

The other two contributors, William Demaria and Oliver Stern, make starkly handsome landscape prints, some realistic and others partly abstracted. The artists use etching and other techniques to craft pictures that contrast hard and seemingly soft forms. Demaria, a Baltimorean, produces some of the more literal images, but also stripped renderings of natural features whose haziness (according to two of the titles) is meant to evoke distant memories. Stern, who works in Upstate New York, depicts cracks, paths and openings. Some of these features appear monumental, while others could be microscopic.

In addition to a second sculptural work that features oil-filled glass spheres, Owen offers a single print, the only one in the show that’s not monochromatic. “Free Enterprise” is a toylike small-town cityscape in which both buildings and foliage burn with red-orange flames. After the oil spill comes the conflagration.

William Demaria, Erin Owen and Oliver Stern: After Thought — Emotional Landscapes Through Feb. 25 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. washingtonprintmakers.com. 202-669-1497.

Dupont & Mullins

In previous appearances at Adah Rose Gallery, Brian Dupont has shown abstract paintings characterized by an industrial feel and the use of stenciled lettering. His work in “Of Homage or of Hope,” a two-person show, is a significant departure from his earlier output. The New York artist has recently produced a series of “Annotations,” mixed-media pictures on paper that feature handwritten excerpts from the writings of Herman Melville and Walt Whitman.

The drawing-paintings are smudged, layered and apparently improvisational. Yet they take cues from both the content and form of the books that inspired them. The green in one picture is derived from the color of the binding of the original edition of “Leaves of Grass,” and the oceanic blues in another piece are arrayed at levels derived from individual chapters of “Moby-Dick.” One of the few pictures to include stenciled text drops the word “plumb” vertically into the composition as if the letters themselves constitute a plumb line dropped into water to measure its depth. Dupont’s art is idiosyncratic, yet tethered to a wider world of fact and fiction.

The show’s other artist, Nathan Mullins, is almost a realist painter. His vignettes of everyday life are easily recognizable, yet flattened and stylized in ways that make them seem slightly eerie. While the three figures in “Friends on Fair Ground Fence” look ordinary, they’re arranged to appear more as formal elements than everyday people. The Mississippi artist also occasionally introduces surrealistic elements, such as the large creature that floats above a reclining nude woman in “Dream of the Big Fish.” Mullins depicts the commonplace in a manner that allows reveries to sometimes seep in.

Brian Dupont and Nathan Mullins: Of Homage or of Hope Through March 1 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington. adahrosegallery.com. 301-922-0162.

Natural Blue

The ocean is both threatened and threatening in “Natural Blue,” a King Street Gallery show that showcases four visual artists, one of whom pairs her work with a colleague’s verse. The contributors suggest the qualities of water with paint, ink and wood, or simply with light.

Among local artist Ruth Lozner’s entries are frameworks of model houses, made of painted wood raised on stilts as if in preparation for a great flood. Meredith Starr makes blueprint-like cyanotypes whose stark imagery complements poems by Sarah Kain Gutowski, a fellow New York area resident, who writes about nature’s harsh beauty.

Also featured are local artist Jacqui Crocetta’s pretty but ominous paintings of beaches and tidal pools contaminated by stray plastic, which are often painted on actual plastic (from the same series recently shown at the McLean Project for the Arts).

The most ethereal works are Meredith Leich’s videos, filmed on sea- and ice-forged locations in Iceland, Alaska and a small Massachusetts island that may be submerged by a rising ocean. The Boston artist projects patterns on boulders or a large boat propeller, using stop-action animation to suggest aquatic currents or glacial movements. Leich’s creations are delicately beautiful, but they warn of such perils as the slowing of the Gulf Stream and the disappearance of glaciers.

Natural Blue Through March 1 at King Street Gallery, Montgomery College, 930 King St., Silver Spring; bit.ly/MC-VPA. 240-567-5821.

Celebrating 45 Years of Robert Brown Gallery

In 1981, Robert Brown moved his three-year-old gallery from New York to Washington, beginning his D.C. run with a show by Swiss artist Fifo Stricker. Two of Stricker’s whimsical pictures of animals who partly merge with inanimate objects are included in “45 Years,” the anniversary tribute to Brown’s career at what is now Gallery Neptune & Brown.

The venue, a collaboration with Brown’s spouse, Christine Neptune, often exhibits prints and drawings, but this show also encompasses paintings, photographs and sculptures. Sometimes a work on paper can evoke a 3D piece, as in the case of British artist David Nash’s charcoal drawing of his monumental charred-wood sculpture, a rendering contained by a frame that’s also blackened wood.

Brown regulars will expect, correctly, to see distinctive prints by South Africa’s William Kentridge and Russia’s Oleg Kudryashov. Other highlights are painstakingly intricate drawings and prints by Linn Meyers (abstract) and Ben Tolman (surrealistic), and Frank Stewart’s photo of jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal with an intent expression and his keyboard reflected in his glasses. The detail is exquisite, yet not surprising at a gallery that has long presented art of exceptional precision.

Celebrating 45 Years of Robert Brown Gallery Through March 2 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. galleryneptunebrown.com. 202-986-1200.

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