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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