Review | In the galleries: Exploring connections in the Black experience


There’s a lot of portraiture, actual or symbolic, in “The Ties That Bind,” presented by the Millennium Art Salon at IA&A at Hillyer. The 14-artist exhibition is an overview of “the Black experience throughout the Diaspora,” according to the gallery. Among the highlights are Lisa Brown’s suite of mother-daughter photos; Chelsea Odofu’s split-screen video of African-style dance; and Liz Miller’s sculptures of braided hair, including two massive standing combs enveloped in woven tresses. The show’s standout, however, is a nonrepresentational piece.

Wesley Clark’s “God Speak” covers the side of one room with more than 100 wooden wedges, each painted like a miniature abstract-expressionist canvas. Arranged tidily in groupings of various numbers, and separated by disparate expanses of white wall, the triangular blocks stretch approximately 7 feet high and 14 feet wide. The effect is imposing, but also funky.

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Clark is known for working with reclaimed wood, whose natural grain, jagged dimensions and flaws he doesn’t disguise. This time the Hyattsville, Md., artist has cut the pieces into uniform shapes and sizes, and positioned each identically, with the same edge always facing the viewer. The regular arrangement is offset by the erratically applied pigment, which is thick, ragged and often partly abraded. Nails, screws or bolts protrude from some of the blocks, so they appear as roughly used as the materials in Clark’s other found-wood sculptures.

Exactly how this reflects the piece’s title is a matter for individual interpretation, but “God Speak” embodies order and chaos, conflict and serenity. Covering an entire wall is a complete cosmos that is as beautiful as it is damaged.

A smaller adjacent show, also presented by Millennium Art Salon, takes a historical approach to Black portraits. Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Josephine Baker and Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture are among the subjects of “Zero Dollar Bill,” a selection of silk-screens by Imar Lyman (also known as Imar Hutchins). Using bright colors and a mix of realist and cubist styles, Lyman makes prints that are robust and celebratory. The show is titled after a print of an imaginary currency, a commentary on art-world materialism, made in a limited edition in honor of the salon.

The Ties That Bind and cln: Zero Dollar Bill Through Oct. 30 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.

Among the inspirations for Rosemary Cooley’s Washington Printmakers Gallery exhibition are Jungian psychology, traditional Italian art and architecture, and her own garden. The show’s title, “Dream Forest — Chance Meeting,” suggests the random, unconscious ways these motifs might come together. But Cooley’s collages appear too considered to have resulted merely from reverie or accident.

The artist, who lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, begins by making monoprints, one-of-a-kind impressions whose bold colors, soft forms and rippling patterns suggest painting. She tears these prints and assembles pieces of them into compositions that sometimes resemble landscapes, adding contrasting elements such as Latin text and more precise images of flowers and architectural details. Sometimes she includes art-history references, such as an homage to “John Gray,” her translation of the name of Spanish cubist Juan Gris.

Cooley invokes medieval illuminated manuscripts, another of her artistic enthusiasms, by adding glittery embellishments, including an embossed insignia that echoes the shape of an adjacent arch. Another collage features leaves from the artist’s yard that have been gilded and placed in a trail along the bottom of one piece. The golden leaves don’t trace a straight line, but they do meander with a sense of purpose.

Rosemary Cooley: Dream Forest — Chance Meeting Through Oct. 30 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

The dream imagery is less diverse, if no less vivid, in Claudia Samper’s Touchstone Gallery show. “Dreams” comprises a series of half-abstract paintings that include a few legible elements: renderings of birds, birdhouses, furniture and the scrawled word “home.” Most also have simple renderings of windows, which may represent domesticity or the portals through which housebound people perceive the wilder world beyond.

Samper mixes acrylic paint, oil pastels and graphite, and occasionally simulates other media; some of the pictures include black areas on which childlike scrawls in white suggest drawing on a blackboard. The Northern Virginia artist further offers three realist pencil drawings of birds in trees, all in shades of gray, save for plumage painted in red or blue.

The hues are bolder in the paintings, whose hot-colored abstract slabs can upstage the birds. The solidity of the large regions of pure color contrasts with the wispy pastel and pencil lines, whose tentativeness might denote that the objects are in motion or that they don’t exist at all. “Dreams” can be hopes, or hallucinations.

Claudia Samper: Dreams Through Oct. 30 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW.

The paintings in Sheila Blake’s “Memory Is a Funny Thing” are quiet, but not necessarily discreet. The veteran Takoma Park, Md., artist has “begun to paint my memoir,” her statement explains, transforming small black-and-white photographs (which are also on exhibit) into lustrous oil paintings. The subjects are everyday and mostly domestic, but accompanied by short reminiscences that are frank and sometimes barbed.

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The pictures are identified by subject and often the source photo’s year. The recaptured scenes include a view of Blake’s mother from before the artist was born, as well as Blake’s 4th birthday party and a 1947 Passover Seder. The painter’s style is realistic but soft-edged, and adds radiant details that the original photos are too small, blunt and monochromatic to capture. All aglow are glassware, ceramics, an aquarium and a television screen that sports the logo of DuMont, a TV network that ended operations in 1956.

Perhaps most striking is Blake’s warm palette, which is heavy on earth tones set off by various but always mild shades of green. The colors seem more early- than mid-20th century, but perhaps this is what the United States really looked like when Blake was a child. Or at least that’s how she remembers it.

Sheila Blake: Memory Is a Funny Thing Through Oct. 30 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW.

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