Review | In the galleries: The harsh beauties of a glacial season


December through February are the cruelest months in “Winter,” a 14-contributor show at Multiple Exposures Gallery juried by noted photographer Craig Sterling. More than half of the 28 pictures are in color, but that’s not always easy to discern. The dominant hues are gray and various shades of white spun by snow and ice. Even the brightest blues tend to be frigid, whether gleaming in wind-chilled skies or literally frozen in ice floes. If the overall mood is not quite desolate, most of the photos depict some form of isolation.

None of the locations are explicitly disclosed, but a few titles indicate places such as North Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, the Jersey Shore and the ever-photogenic Iceland. Often the compositions center on a single structure — a remote house or barn — or a lone tree or small, denuded grove. People are rarely glimpsed, and, when visible, they’re dwarfed by the landscape. The exception is Tom Sliter’s intimate close-up of two skaters’ feet and ankles, in which only foreshortened shadows disclose the existence of the full bodies beyond the frame.

Both Fred Zafran and Clara Kim immerse the viewer in falling snow by positioning out-of-focus flakes like spots of soft white light in front of their subjects — a vintage brick building in Zafran’s photo and a huge tree and a small human in Kim’s. Kim captures a different sort of activity with her picture of a freight train snaking through a mountainous landscape, shot as a long exposure so the train is blurred by motion. More typical, though, are such stark evocations of absolute stillness as Van Pulley’s study of trees swaddled in snow, Sandy LeBrun-Evans’s high-contrast image of a small structure framed by a rustic fence, and Maureen Minehan’s view of stakes partly downed by fierce weather.

Ice manifests as crystals in a pair of Francine B. Livaditis’s close-ups, as small bergs in a Matt Leedham seascape and as heavy icicles outside a window in an Alan Sislen photo that appears to be the only one taken from the comfort of indoors. For this show’s participants, winter is not simply a season to be observed, but a place that beckons to be entered.

Winter Through Jan. 29 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

By relocating his customary vantage points just a few steps, Bradley Stevens enters a whole new world. The local realist painter is best known for virtuosic pictures of Washington museum interiors, which give equal attention to people, architecture and the artwork. His Zenith Gallery show, “Capital Light,” returns to the National Mall, but only once enters a building, and then just to take a look out the window. The structures themselves are the focal points, although the late-afternoon light that paints them is just as important.

Among the most striking pictures is “Pei’s Gift,” which depicts the main facade of the National Gallery’s East Building bathed with orange-pink glare. Other luminous scenes center on the Smithsonian Castle, the C&O Canal, and the Key and Memorial bridges. The single painting made within a building, “Speaker’s Perch,” gazes outside to capture a sweeping view of the Mall from what was former House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. The Washington Monument roughly bisects the composition, but the scene is dominated by green trees and a sky streaked with clouds as it creeps from blue to red. Stevens may spend a lot of time inside the city’s museums, but it’s clear that one of the things he loves most about Washington is its open firmament.

Bradley Stevens: Capital Light Through Jan. 28 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW.

The only tool Rosa Leff uses directly in making her cutout-paper vignettes is a knife. Yet a camera is also essential to the well-traveled Baltimore artist’s Pyramid Atlantic Art Center show, “Pastports.” Leff carves her photographed cityscapes, most of them remarkably intricate, into single-color silhouettes. Included are views of Coney Island and Puerto Rico, but among the most impressive accomplishments are street scenes from Japan and China in which the jostling pedestrians are outnumbered by hordes of commercial signs.

The cutouts are usually incised into sheets of brightly colored paper and placed in front of a white background. Occasionally, Leff complicates the visual schemes by employing colored or patterned backdrops. One of the most painstaking pieces, “Escape,” is a black-paper rendering of telephone poles and webs of electrical lines that provide perches for a dozen or so birds. The artist attached the delicate silhouette to clear glass so that the mostly thin lines cast wispy shadows on the wall beyond. “Escape” is the emptiest of these pictures, but Leff’s 3D gambit makes it one of the most complex.

Rosa Leff: Pastports Through Jan. 29 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.

Remembrances are laden in Jeffrey Berg’s “Stories,” but they’re not the artist’s own. Many of the large color-pencil drawings in the D.C. artist’s Homme Gallery show were inspired by an old photo album he found in a local antique store.

Berg makes that backstory explicit with “Memory: Punky and Sissy,” which depicts the outline of a man whose body is filled with actual black-and-white snapshots. A few pictures are flipped to reveal the inscriptions on the back, which name children known as Punky and Sissy. Two other drawings reproduce text from postcards dated to the early 1940s, probably a few years before the construction of the tract-house suburbs included in many of the scenes.

Other pictures have more streamlined backdrops, or none at all. Two renderings of a shirtless man with upturned arms demonstrate Berg’s mastery of human anatomy. They’re drawn with brown and white pencil on brown cardboard, a palette that’s only slightly more limited than the artist’s usual one. Berg’s colors are mostly muted, and yet lush, which results from layering colored pencil, erasing it and layering again. The result is visually striking but also metaphorically apt. The multiple, partly obliterated levels suggest memories submerged, misplaced or entirely forgotten.

Jeffrey Berg: Stories Through Jan. 27 at Homme Gallery, 2000 L St. NW. Open by appointment.

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