The artist has long divided her drawing-paintings into small bits that give the sense of being assembled like stained-glass windows. She incorporates cut-paper collage and applique textiles to represent such things as flowers and clothing. Recently, she’s begun adding rough textures by combining pumice and pigment, a mix that’s molded into backdrops that can fill much of a picture’s territory. In “A Fragment in Time,” a girl swings toward a blue sky across a mottled white expanse, while “Biosphere” places a woman inside a jar bounded by chalky space. There also are two pictures topped by blocks of pumice-embedded black that look as oppressive as the white areas seem free.
Davis’s protagonists are gray-skinned “Frocasions,” multi- or post-racial people partly inspired by her interracial marriage. These characters are often portrayed under stress, looped by chains or lifting heavy bricks — or displayed to leering male eyes. But they’re also shown at rest or coiled in loving embrace. A set of small paintings offers portraits of three dozen of the artist’s fanciful subjects in a variety of poses and skin tones. They’re diverse yet unified, like the pictures Davis constructs from squares, circles and triangles — and from crooked mouths, off-center noses and akimbo limbs.
Anna U. Davis: Reality Check Through Feb. 27 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.
Exploring Deaf Geographies
The title of Pyramid Atlantic Art Center’s “Exploring Deaf Geographies” refers primarily to personal or symbolic spaces conjured by the five deaf contributors. Youmee Lee and Yiqiao Wang, for example, evoke childhood with images of animals and girls. Lee’s delicate etchings, often keyed to a single dominant color, suggest illustrations for a lyrical children’s book. Wang cut beasts and flowers from red paper, and painted a boldly hued and patterned portrait of her young self with a toy dragon on a stick.
There are geographic links among the five artists. All live in or near D.C., home to Gallaudet University, or Rochester, N.Y., the site of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Tabitha Jacques, who curated the exhibition, is the director of NTID’s Dyer Art Center and divides her time between the two regions. According to her statement, Hyattsville, Md. — the location of Pyramid Atlantic Art Center ― in particular “is becoming a hub for the Deaf community.”
Two of the artists make abstractions that can be read as landscapes. Open regions and citylike grids appear in Laural Hartman’s prints, the most dynamic of which centers on an abstracted flower arrangement. Aaron Swindlemakes collages, sometimes augmented with paint or colored pencil, whose grainy textures and metallic tones convey primal earthiness.
The only participant who responds directly to her current location is Melissa Malzkuhn — whose statement says her art manifests “my love-and-hate relationship with D.C.” In one of four prints with unprintable titles, the upward thrust of the Washington Monument is mirrored by an arm and hand with outstretched middle finger. Indignation is not the only element in this series, which takes its style from Russian constructivism and its two-color scheme from the Risograph, a Japanese duplicating machine. Malzkuhn gives an art history lesson while she blows off a little steam.
Exploring Deaf Geographies Through Feb. 27 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville, Md.
Mullins and Pettigrew
The two painters paired in Adah Rose Gallery’s “The Beauty of Solitude” are representationalists but not exactly realists. Nathan Mullins and Emily Pettigrew flatten and streamline such subjects as a baseball outfield and a stark bedroom, respectively, as ways to ponder form, space and texture. Yet if abstraction informs their work, so does the real world.
Baseball players and parks appear in many of Mullins’s oils, which are derived from broadcast-TV images from the 1980s and ’90s. The Mississippi artist, who has an MFA from American University, emphasizes the solitariness of athletes of color. This reflects partly how the men were framed by the TV camera, but also their treatment as “second rate citizens off the field,” Mullins’s statement notes.
Lone figures, often framed by spare structures, also are common in Pettigrew’s pictures, some of which depict historic sites observed during a residency in Ireland. Wherever the scene, the artist gives it a beguiling out-of-time feel. Pettigrew credits her style to a Maine childhood and her current life in the rustic Catskills, but it’s an aesthetic choice as well. Mullins and Pettigrew simplify their images to concentrate their essence.
Nathan Mullins and Emily Pettigrew: The Beauty of Solitude Through March 2 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, Md.
The copiapoa cactuses that grow in Chile’s Atacama, Earth’s driest nonpolar desert, are both hardy and delicate. The starkly lovely drawings in “Cactus of the Sands,” Irene Pantelis’s Studio Gallery show, emphasize the delicacy. This expresses the precarious existence of vegetation that finds “sustenance in just fog and sunlight,” according to the local artist’s statement. It also hints at the environmental threats to the flowering cactuses, which are imperiled by poaching, lithium mining and climate change.
The drawings verge on abstraction, yet are clearly derived from nature. Most were executed with black ink on paper whose low absorbency allowed the pigment to pool and occasionally separate, yielding subtle gradations in color. A few of the pictures are highlighted with brown colored pencil, bits of mesh and, in one case, acrylic paint. That blue-accented picture represents a satellite view of remaining cactus mounds, but Pantelis produces just as an expansive view of nature by focusing on a single plant.
Irene Pantelis: Cactus of the Sands Through Feb. 26 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.