In the galleries: The optics of our relationship with nature

In the galleries: The optics of our relationship with nature


The human eye alights on one thing at a time, a tendency that guides how artists have traditionally arranged their compositions. But in the mid-20th century, with a nudge from earlier works such as Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” series, abstractionists began to make paintings in which no gesture or area was more important than another. Four local artists apply such allover strategies to pictures that conjure the teeming, uncentered qualities of the natural world. Or at least that’s one way to see the work of Delna Dastur, Maggie Gourlay, Susan Stacks and Shanye Huang.

Vestiges of human presence are not entirely missing from these artists’ work, as Dastur’s “Cross Pollination” demonstrates. The show at the Fred Schnider Gallery of Art includes some drawings but mostly collage-paintings whose bustling vitality evokes the metropolis where the artist grew up, now known as Mumbai. (In her statement, she calls it Bombay.) The tightly abutting forms include plants and trees but also suggest microscopic organisms and, sometimes, the sort of cities where ungridded streets twist and meander.

Dastur begins by covering a large sheet of paper with woodblock prints of simple images, which combine to suggest fabric and wallpaper designs. She then adds shreds of handmade Indian paper. These layers are fixed with acrylic gels and pastes, and finally splashed with diluted acrylic pigment. The artist’s goal is to depict the relationship of nature and mankind — distinct and intertwined, beneficial or destructive. In symbolic landscapes this intricate, it seems, almost anything is possible.

The resemblance to decorative design is intentional in Gourlay’s prints, which are paired with Stacks’s drawings in Adah Rose Gallery’s “Noticing.” Gourlay’s “Wallpapers for a Warming World” juxtapose native flora, printed with plant- or mineral-based pigments, with invasive species rendered with standard acrylic inks. Glitches in the compositions, as well as subtle color shifts, mark the transition from one to another.

Also on display are examples of the artist’s “chipped paint” series, in which her screen prints of plants are largely covered by white house paint. Chinks in the top layer allow glimpses of what’s below, almost forgotten or nearly lost. While reducing plants to ornamental motifs, humans risk losing altogether the models for such designs.

Unlike Gourlay’s pictures, Stacks’s are purely abstract. Yet the artist acknowledges the influence of East Asian nature paintings — some of her drawings recall decorative Japanese screens — and accepts that viewers may see her intricate patterns as blossoms, clouds or other environmental phenomena.

Stacks draws on paper with ink, often metallic, and occasionally supplemented by paint. Many colors figure in her pictures, but most prominent are gold and white. White often appears in rounded forms on top of the compositions, whose elaborate construction provides a perhaps unintentional sense of depth. The artist’s statement emphasizes the importance of process over the resulting imagery, but her painstakingly devised microcosms inevitably prompt thoughts of the wider world.

Like Dastur, Huang was shaped by formative years spent far from Washington. A member of the Zhuang ethnic minority of southwest China, the artist incorporates that region’s folkloric traditions into the pieces in “Regeneration — Connection — Celebration,” which is dispersed across several places within and outside the Sandy Spring Museum.

End of carousel

Huang’s show includes four pillars erected on the museum’s lawn, which are made of PVC pipes wrapped in colored stripes and adorned with such words as “peace,” “joy” and “hope” in multiple languages. The vivid hues continue inside but are arrayed in more complex ways.

To see most of the rest of the show, you have to look up. From the rafters of a nearly round chamber, Huang has suspended pop-art flowers, painted on foam-board circles, whose cores are repurposed CDs. In a barnlike nearby room, more than a dozen brightly painted banners hug the ceiling, and four more hang down one of the walls.

A look at the banners that reach the floor reveals Huang’s method. He cuts shapes — including flowers, fish, birds and human faces — into rice paper spattered with paint. Each piece is primarily one hue, yet mottled with others. Huang joins Dastur and Gourlay in referring to decorative art, in his case Zhuang-style brocade embroidery. But his mixed-media tapestries reach past any specific culture and toward the universal.

Delna Dastur: Cross Pollination Through Dec. 30 at Fred Schnider Gallery of Art, 888 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 703-841-9404.

Maggie Gourlay and Susan Stacks: Noticing Through Dec. 20 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, Md. 301-922-0162.

Shanye Huang: Regeneration — Connection — Celebration Through Dec. 31 at the Sandy Spring Museum, 17901 Bentley Rd., Sandy Spring, Md. 301-774-0022.

Jorge Yázpik

Iron, copper and obsidian are among Jorge Yázpik’s favored materials, but the Mexican artist uses such heavy stuff to make abstract sculptures that have an airy quality. He carves or casts negative spaces that open up the slabs of stone or metal, while retaining the substance’s essential nature. His geometric yet intuitive style unifies the 30 diverse pieces on view at Cheryl Numark Fine Art, a home gallery where Yázpik’s work hangs on walls, sits on counters and spills into the outdoors.

The artist’s inspirations include Japanese, Islamic and pre-Columbian art and architecture, including the roughly 1,000-year-old Toltec megaliths of Mexico’s Tula region. But his approach also draws from post-minimalist art and decorative crafts. Often executed without preliminary models, Yázpik’s sculptures are made by what his website bio calls “clearing a path” through the existing object and allowing for serendipitous developments and discoveries.

If that sounds random, the results are in fact precise and masterly. In addition to multiple varieties of stone, Yázpik employs more malleable materials that offer him greater control, including porcelain, silver and gold. One set of ceramic forms, which appear to have turned partly inside out like kernels of half-popped corn, feature rough, earth-toned exteriors but have inner surfaces coated with shiny gold leaf. Nearby, a chunk of sculpted volcanic rock juxtaposes craggy, natural edges with smoothly polished sides. Yázpik centers his sculptures on their perforated interiors, but he also endows them with immaculately fashioned skins.

Jorge Yázpik Through Jan. 5 at Cheryl Numark Fine Art, 4726 Linnean Ave. NW. 202-460-9843.


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