In the galleries: Magical images of the ordinary

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By Amit


For Maggie Siner, an unmade bed is an entire universe. The painter’s “Hommage to Ordinary Things,” at Calloway Fine Art and Consulting, includes scenes of picturesque European towns and still lifes of fruit and vegetables, such as the pungent “Limes & Garlic Red.” But Siner’s exemplary subject is creased fabric, whether in the form of a rumpled tablecloth, a messy pile of pillows or clothing draped loosely on hangers. Nothing is crisp in Siner’s oils, which are rendered in a style that’s unbridled and seemingly improvisational, yet easily legible.

Siner was previously dean of faculty at the Washington Studio School, and still maintains a home and studio in Northern Virginia. But since 2008, the artist has spent most of her time in Venice, which she loves for its “ever-changing surfaces,” according to her biography.

A fine example of Siner’s eye for surfaces is “Green Door,” which is all white, tan and black save for a rectangular slab of vivid emerald and the fluid reflections of that color in water below. The brushstrokes are a whirlwind of eloquent smudges and slashes, suggesting that the picture was completed in a few flurried minutes. In fact, Siner’s style is more considered than it appears. “Much scraping and repainting occurs,” her statement notes.

The painter sometimes depicts people, mostly women, but in this show only clothing, furniture and other accessories attest to human existence. White garments — and, in one picture, four rolls of toilet paper — are rendered as landscapes of light and shadow, their brightest regions contrasted by soft blues and grays. Touches of red, including a tie, a label and a ribbon, set off the whites, but these pictures would be dynamic even without the crimson accents. All Siner needs to compose a lively picture is an expanse of wrinkled whiteness and the way light plays across it.

Maggie Siner: Hommage to Ordinary Things Through March 15 at Calloway Fine Art and Consulting, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Eleven female Ukrainian artists respond to the Russian invasion of their homeland in “Women at War,” an exhibition whose work is both harrowing and defiant. (There’s also a linocut by the late Alla Horska, whose 1970 murder has been attributed to the KGB.) A version of the show was reviewed in this newspaper last year, when it was on display in New York. The incarnation now at the Art Gallery at Stanford in Washington is reportedly slightly different.

Most of the pieces predate the 2022 Russian assault, referring to incursions that began earlier in eastern and southern Ukraine, as well as to broader issues of wartime violence against women. Dana Kavelina’s pencil drawings on rumpled paper employ red lines, whether drawn or laced with thread, to represent raw and often sexual aggression. Alena Grom’s photographs portray women and children in the Donbas war zone, sheltered precariously in the tight, dark wombs of mines and cellars.

Among the entries that play on art-world tropes: Anna Scherbyna’s miniature watercolors of Donbas ruins, shrouded under gray cloths as if they were aged and rare, and Olia Fedorova’s antitank “hedgehogs” made of paper and photographed in a snowy field, where they resemble land art.

Visually arresting but harder to translate is Zhanna Kadyrova’s “Palianytsia,” a large stone partly sliced like a loaf of bread. A gallery note explains that a typical Ukrainian bread is called palianytsia, a Ukrainian word that Russians can’t pronounce like native speakers — and thus is used to identify the invaders. Playful and serious at the same time, the simulated loaf links Ukrainian identity to elemental features of the country’s landscape.

Women at War Through March 21 at the Art Gallery at Stanford in Washington, 2655 Connecticut Ave. NW.

The prints in Pyramid Atlantic Art Center’s current show are credited to David C. Driskell (1931-2020), a local African American artist and scholar. But the show is titled “A Collaboration of Creativity” because it exhibits artworks made with printer Curlee Raven Holton, founder of Pennsylvania’s Raven Editions. The two worked together from 2003 until Driskell’s death.

The prints are listed primarily as serigraph, also known as silk-screen, or relief, which includes woodcut and linocut. Most depict people, sometimes distilled to masklike faces, and often framed by or even immersed in foliage. The other subjects include a few near-abstract nature scenes and an owl rendered in bold black lines overprinted with areas of arboreal brown and tan.

“Owl’s” schema is typical of these pictures. Some are monochromatic, with robust areas of black. Most of the others are defined by the same line-oriented style, but smartly complemented by one or more additional colors. A few pairings present the same image with and without the added hues, or with different color schemes. Although such works as “Accent of Autumn” and “Yoruba Couple” are as boldly colorful as paintings, chiseled black strokes are the bones of Driskell’s printmaking style.

A Collaboration of Creativity: Print Work of David C. Driskell Through March 19 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville, Md.

In one of Nicole Santiago’s domestic scenes, a pregnant woman reveals her bare belly while alphabet blocks spell out “B-A-B-Y.” Motherhood is a frequent concern of the artist’s realist pictures, which are full of children and, often, cakes, balloons, party hats and bottles of Coca-Cola. Birthday celebrations seem to occur regularly in what the gallery’s statement calls “semi-autobiographical narrative paintings.”

The show includes black-and-white prints, drawings and one piece that combines charcoal, crayon and acrylic pigment. These pictures, some of which feature nudes, are solemnly appealing. But the show is dominated by larger pieces, painted with oils whose bright colors and gooey textures seem to emulate the icing on all those cakes.

Santiago, who teaches at Williamsburg’s College of William and Mary, achieves a strong sense of intimacy. Yet her larger pictures often adopt an elevated vantage, as if the artist is above rather than within the action. A woman in a pink party dress, reclining on a red-and-white polka-dot cloth, is viewed from directly above. What makes Santiago’s personal scenes only semi-autobiographical, perhaps, is their sense of distance.

Nicole Santiago Through March 19 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.

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