Veteran D.C. painter John Blee calls his recent paintings “The Orchard Series,” a reference to a Rainer Maria Rilke poem that exclaims “we want to ripen.” Another influence on the color-field abstractions, at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, is a childhood spent mostly in India. The subcontinent’s heat radiates from Blee canvases that favor red and orange.
The paintings feature squares and rectangles, loosely and thickly rendered, on expanses of a dominant color. The juxtapositions range from subtle to brash, as when a lime-green block infiltrates the mostly scarlet “Anton’s Orchard.” One thing these pictures don’t evoke literally is an orchard, with its splashes of fruit colors against a leaf-green backdrop. That would be too pastoral for Blee, whose compositions have an urban energy.
Also at Cross MacKenzie, Nicole Gunning is showing the next generation of ceramic nudes — life-size, but headless and armless — modeled on her own body. There’s one example of the previous iteration, whose earthy tones suggest something ancient. But “The Nickie Warriors” are in such shiny hues as aqua and violet, and sometimes covered in syrup-thick glazes. The local artist doesn’t idealize the female form, and her technique also celebrates imperfection: The figures slump in various ways, and a few have conspicuous cracks. These mock relics may be brand-new, but they didn’t come off an assembly line. - Mark Jenkins
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For John Blee, painting is poetry and color is its language.
“Color determines the voice of each painting,” he says. “It can never be exactly repeated. So when I find the right colors in the process of painting, they are like keys that open the works for me.”
His recent work, on view at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW, expands his “Orchard” series, which began in 2007. These lush, atmospheric environments of color and delicate shapes are a sensory envelopment, recalling the painterly geometric abstraction of Hans Hofmann and the alluring garden scenes of Pierre Bonnard.
Yet Blee finds much of his inspiration in poetry. The origin of this series is connected to the late French poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, specifically his collection “Vergers,” (French for “Orchards”).
Regardless, his paintings are for those among us who adore the secret life of paint itself. They are for those who lean in close to explore the trails of the brush, tracing its path and listening for the echo of colors scratched gently across the taut canvas. For this writer, paintings do not get much better. These are paintings I would like to live with. - Ari Post
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”Crying House” by Léa Eouzan is part of an exhibit of her photography at Cross MacKenzie Gallery. (Courtesy of Lea Eouzan and Cross MacKenzie Gallery)Read More
Photo: Opening night at the Katzen
IN THE GALLERIES:
Three painters and a ceramicist, all in their early 20s, are the “New Talent” of Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s current show. Their work is linked less by style or theme than by vigor and high spirits.
Louise Smith’s large, bustling mixed-media paintings are partially collages, with pigment atop assembled paper and cardboard shards. Maida Monaghan’s red-heavy pictures are partially representational, but they juxtapose pictorial elements in unexpected arrangements. While Cooper MacKenzie depicts hostile nature in paintings of a sinkhole and a tornado, the vibe turns cosmic and perhaps contemplative in his striking “Enso Triptych,” with star-like spatter on space-black backdrops. (In Zen ink painting, an “enso” is a quickly rendered circle, symbolizing enlightenment and the universe.)
Although Nicole Gunning’s life-size figures intentionally suggest the multitudes of Xi’an’s ancient Terra-Cotta Warriors, these are not minions of some emperor. The “Nickies” are all self-portraits, autonomous and unflinchingly nude — albeit headless and armless. Where the Chinese figures are clearly part of set, Gunning’s are personal and individual, and thus entirely contemporary.
"Blast Off!" At Cross MacKenzie Gallery
Cross MacKenzie Gallery evokes both ancient mythology and modern technology with “Blast-Off,” its latest group show, which focuses on themes of flight and air travel. David Favrod, one of seven artists in the show, offers a photograph of a Japanese soldier wearing Icarus-style wings, reinterpreting his Japanese grandparents’ role in World War II. Montana-based painter Philip Slagter compares two flying forms, hummingbirds and cutting-edge aerial drones, while other artists look back to the iconic 20th-century rocket form: with ironic cheerfulness in the hands of Biddle/Frankel (a collaboration between husband and wife Eve Biddle and Joshua Frankel) and with doughy, flabby drabness in the hands of sculptor Matthew Courtney. But the exhibit’s biggest treat is seeing the work of two longtime D.C. favorites—painter Trevor Young, who provides a dramatic, nighttime homage to a taxiing airplane, and photographer (and gallery owner) Maxwell Mackenzie, whose aerial image of planes dotting an expansive desert landscape calls to mind some of Young’s own fine portrayals of creamy, industrial-gray tarmacs a decade and a half ago.
IN THE GALLERIEs:
On one side of Cross MacKenzie Gallery, a long bench holds more than 50 objects, which clay artist Zimra Beiner calls “Tools for No Purpose.” Some of them have knobs, tines or other parts that make them look vaguely functional, but others appear more organic, suggesting gourds or cones. To add to the perplexity, the so-called tools are all made of red-tan clay, but coated with a glaze that has been sandblasted to a seemingly creamy finish, suggesting cream-cheese icing. It’s as if the artist raided the kitchen drawers of a psychedelic cartoon.
In the front window are two hulking clay blobs — “blob” is the gallery’s term for them — whose contours look soft and random but whose surfaces are hard and glossy. These are the only standalone items. The other, smaller pieces are carefully arranged so that they look like a series of miniature pavilions or 3-D glyphs, spelling out some unreadable word. The blend of organic and faux-functional continues in one set of silver-gray objects that might be roosters in the process of turning into pitchers, or vice versa.
The show also includes a few drawings, mostly in gray and black but sometimes with smears of yellow. These works also jumble tool shapes and architectural motifs for purely whimsical aims. Whether employing clay or lines, Beiner crafts stuff whose only purpose is play.
In the galleries:
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei famously attacked cultural heirlooms with Dada-inspired impiety, dipping Han and Qing Dynasty pots into vats of industrial paint. It’s not clear whether artist Hyun Kyung Yoon was delighted or distressed by Ai’s antics, but she’s responded with some splattered ceramics of her own, now on display at Cross MacKenzie Gallery. “Why, Ai Wei Wei?” features a dozen newly made off-white jars, seemingly dripping with brightly stained glazes. The result is less provocative than Ai’s work, but more beautiful. Rather than acts of vandalism, Yoon’s color-splashed vessels are an elegant merger of the American pop-art palette and the Asian aesthetic known in Japanese as “wabi-sabi” (rough simplicity).
The show also features Yoon’s “Indeterminate Lines” series of wall-mounted ceramic squiggles. The artist, who divides her time between Richmond and South Korea, compares these 3-D gestures to calligraphy, but they also resemble vines or sprouts. Some of the twisting strands end in pod-like shapes or bristling spines, while others culminate in forms that look a bit like shower heads. Made in a range of subdued colors and a variety of finishes, the ceramic brushstrokes look less drawn than grown. Yoon’s “lines” are as distant from traditional pottery as the vivid hues that embellish her Ai-style jars.
Hyun Kyung Yoon at Cross Mackenzie Gallery
Cross MacKenzie Gallery promises to get noticed in 2015. Last year, owners Rebecca Cross and Max MacKenzie bought a new address for the gallery at 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW (a gem of a space vacated by Heiner Contemporary last January). With Addison/Ripley just across the street, the gallery is helping carve out a new outpost for art in Georgetown, once a D.C. bastion of painting, photography, and craft. And with its first show in 2015, Korean artist Hyun Kyung Yoon’s “Why, Ai Weiwei?”, the gallery will test the boundaries of its focus on ceramic arts. For this show, Yoon recreates the Qing and Han Dynasty vases famously appropriated by the titular notorious Beijing artist. While Weiwei has dipped these vases in industrial paint and even destroyed them to make his own work, Yoon presents them as vessels. Is that a promotion or demotion? Yoon’s work might be a playful misreading of Weiwei’s acts of creative destruction or a cynical appropriation of his commanding presence in the contemporary art market. I rather hope that the latter is the case, and that she’s not mounting a rearguard for tradition, craft, and the Qing Dynasty.
Art exhibits make going to the office easier
Unlike Brian Dupont, Raphael Torres Correa doesn’t paint on metal. But the heavily worked, intricately layered canvases in his “A Dialogue With Landscape,” at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, glisten as if they’re metallic or ceramic — and dripping wet. The Cuban-born French artist, now a D.C. resident, is partial to blue, which suggests that his abstractions are inspired by the sea. Yet the paintings also include patches that resemble oxidized iron or steel.
Cross MacKenzie Gallery is known for ceramics, a medium for which Torres Correa has an affinity. His overlapping washes suggest a potter’s glazes, and he often stretches canvases on a tiled floor to paint, which ingrains patterns that remain in such pictures as the glimmering “Argument de Silence.” Whether evoking water with green-blue blends or fire with red and orange, the artist presents a vision of fluidity beneath hard-shelled surfaces.
Georgetown Gallery Guide
Paintings and sculptures carry us through time. They stay with us through generations, encouraging us to think and to feel, offering us perspective and peppering our lives with beauty. To find a connection with a work of art is a unique, remarkable experience; and while it has the potential to function as an appreciable investment, a work of art should, foremost, be acquired out of love, connection and passion for the piece itself. [...] Rafael Torres Correa creates lyrical universes in his large abstract canvases. The surfaces are reminiscent of radiantly glazed ancient ceramics: rich planes of glazed blue and turquoise, deeply resonant of the sea, punctuated with coppery flashes of bright colors like reflective sunlight. This mesmerizing depth and movement in the work is realized through overlaying washes, drips, dabs and splashes of paint. Torres’s paintings evoke sense and memory, not dissimilar from the meditative, contemplative abstractions of Rothko, conjuring sensations of floating islands shifting in and out of focus from above. As uncertain shapes emerge, the viewer can almost perceive the contour of a distant land – perhaps a haunting gesture of the artist’s Cuban roots and his family’s journey to the United States. These landscapes are transitory territories and shifting metaphors, a state that parallels the artist’s own migrations and cultural identity.
In the galleries: The Old Masters, with a photographic twist, at Cross MacKenzie
It takes a lot of nerve to mess with Goya, Delacroix and Caravaggio. But Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, a.k.a. Generic Art Solutions, don’t simply tweak the Old Masters in the manner of Marcel Duchamp’s mustache and goatee on the “Mona Lisa.” The New Orleans duo stages elaborate photographic parodies of famous paintings, starring themselves and often making raw political statements.
The team’s tableaux, now at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, are uncanny simulations of the original artworks’ visual opulence. The two artists play all of the roles in their restagings of highly recognizable crowd-scene canvases such as Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Some of the pictures are more faithful to the originals — the remake of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat” simply adds a prescription pill bottle. But the duo’s version of Goya’s “The Third of May 1808” (retitled “Border Patrol”) alters both the composition and the subject, turning the painter’s indictment of Napoleon’s troops into a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
Vis and Campbell also are performance artists. Their “International Art Police” routine is echoed in an update of Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ,” in which Jesus is being arrested by flashlight-wielding cops. Here, the immediacy of performance yields to fastidious compositional and photographic skills. Throughout Vis and Campbell’s works, the figures, lighting and shadows are impeccably integrated, even when one of the men is playing the role of John the Baptist’s severed head.
Although the duo’s name may seem self-mocking, it’s based on the less derogatory connotation of “generic” in Britain, Campbell’s homeland. Still, the sense of art as a cultural product doesn’t seem quite right. Even when Generic Art Solutions reworks a painting that has been reproduced a million times, the artists give it a new and often provocative spin.
Fall Art Guide: Top exhibits on the local gallery scene
Local and national ceramic artists, painters, photographers, potters and sculptors. Ongoing: “GAS – Generic Art Solutions,” photographs inspired by historical works. December 2, ongoing: Rafael Torres Correa, abstract paintings by Cuban-born French artist.
Georgetown Gallery Scene Makes a Resurgence
The Georgetown neighborhood has reemerged in recent years as the most promising gallery scene in the city—Mark Jenkin's recent Washington Post article, “Galleries Gathering Again in Once Arty Georgetown,” is perhaps the most resounding testament. [...] Cross Mackenzie Gallery has paired the graphite wall drawings and pen and ink works on paper by Lyn Horton together with elegant black and white porcelain work by Maren Kloppmann. Both artists work chiefly in black and white, and the juxtaposition of the seemingly chaotic and energetic lines of Horton’s drawings with Kloppmann’s quiet, grounded forms creates a harmonious dialogue of form.
In the galleries: A meeting of lines in art and architecture
“Drifting Waters” seems too mild a title for Mary Armstrong’s show of violently luminous paintings at Cross MacKenzie Gallery. These seas are roiling and boldly colored, sometimes in oranges and pinks that suggest lava more than water, and mirrored by skies that are just as turbulent and dramatically hued. Indeed, the horizon line is often murky, suggesting that ocean and air are not really divided. They can appear part of a single churning mass, more akin to Jupiter than Earth.