Modern-Day Pieces of History
By Mark Jenkins
Special to The Washington Post

Friday, February 13, 2004; Page WE49

JUDY JASHINSKY is a storyteller. The Washington artist often works on cycles of paintings related to a single theme, such as her study of the life of 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

The pictures in her current show, however, are linked by their scale. Most of the 13 paintings grouped as "Water & Wood" are large enough to hold their own in the wide open space of Signal 66, a warehouse gallery in Blagden Alley.
Jashinsky's art is almost neoclassical, but with a modern twist or two. Three of these pieces are on linen, two on paper and the rest on wood panels. The works on linen have more depth than the others: "Caribbean Storm," originally part of a "Columbus and Isabella" series, looks as if it's about to drench the viewer, and the precise rows of trees in "The Guardian" -- modeled on an actual location in Michigan -- lead the eye deep into the composition, where a lake shore beckons. Meticulously painted and richly detailed, these three pictures (the third is the equally watery "Quiet Alert") suggest the pre-Raphaelites, but with their Victorian-age neo-romanticism replaced by an up-to-date ominousness.
Other pictures reach even further into the past for inspiration. There are several depictions of ancient Egypt, a mixed-media depiction of the shield of Jashinsky's Amerindian mother's tribe and two views (on opposite sides of the same panel) of the prehistoric "Iceman" unearthed in the Alps in 1991. In the time-shifting "Reenactment," the painter depicts pre-Columbian Indians paddling up the Potomac in a canoe. Washingtonians should have no trouble recognizing the location; Memorial Bridge is clearly visible.
Doctrinaire modernists might dismiss Jashinsky's work as illustrative, which to a degree it is. She trained as a medical illustrator, and such pieces as "Iceman's Cape, Quiver, Arrows and Ax" would look just fine reproduced in a magazine or newspaper, even in black-and-white. Something would be missing, however. Unlike pre-modern artists who painted on wooden panels, Jashinsky integrates the characteristics of the wood into the final result. For one thing, the images she paints or draws on wood are flatter, without the sense of depth of her paintings on linen. One of the best examples of the artist's approach to wood is "Eve and Adam," whose forms follow the grain and whose colors -- mostly orange, pink and white -- complement the panel's original hue.
So there's more to the story than Jashinsky's nimble hand and historical (and prehistorical) interests. Although the artist is no conceptual radical, she does keep experimenting with form. Two large pieces, "Enrichment" and "Reenactment," were rendered on overlapping squares of heavy paper; they're epic scenes that can be broken down for easy transport. Several of the recent works, notably "Iceman," were drawn on wood with pastel and then coated with shellac, which liquefies the pastel, making it richer and more fluid. With such pieces, Jashinsky is developing a style that's as distinctive as her subjects.
The most frequently employed image in "Gleaming the Screen: An Exhibition of Silkscreen Poster Art" is a human skull. Also common are bombs and snakes, and one piece features an electrical plug that drips blood. Yet the 86 posters tightly overlapped on the walls of Transformer Gallery, a tiny art space in the newly booming 1400 block of P Street NW, are not raw, shocking or confrontational. They mostly promote contemporary alt-rock performers, and bear the same relationship to punk visuals as today's semi-underground rock does to punk music: They use many of the same ingredients, but what was once hot is now coolly aestheticized.
Of course, lots of punk was coolly aestheticized, too. The late-'70s New York scene picked up from -- and was often blessed by -- such exemplars of '60s cool as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Not all the stars of '60s pop art had, as Warhol did, a background in commercial art. But they all appropriated images from mass-media iconography, and many of them fetishized such elements of visual mass production as the Ben Day dot. The artists in this show don't make as much of the Dot as did pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, but it's there, along with elements from '60s psychedelic-rock poster art, Japanese manga, art nouveau, Peter Max, medical drawings, William Blake and perhaps the Washington Color School: A poster for Black Eyes, a D.C. band, shows a dancing Capitol dome atop swathes of bright color, suggesting the work of local stripe master Gene Davis.
The last is the work of Serigraphic Populaire (Seripop), a Montreal duo that's one of 21 design firms represented in the show. None of these companies is large, and most are single-artist operations. That's the case with Planaria Design, which is another name for Washington designer, club booker and record-label proprietor Nick Pimentel. You can also add curator to that list, because Pimentel also organized "Gleaming the Screen," drawing in part on his own collection. His designs in the show include a '70s-style psychedelic blaxploitation placard for the Scene Creamers, a Washington band that recently renamed itself Weird War.
Although most of these posters were produced on Macintosh computers, few have a clean, machine-tooled look. For every image as sleekly contemporary as the pink iPod touting Interpol, there are a half-dozen homages to historic printmaking styles, such as the hand-etched cat advertising Japanese cult singer Damo Suzuki, or the faux-Victorian raven and wolf fraternizing for the sake of Tortoise and Sparklehorse. What links the posters, aside from exceptional design skills and meticulous printing, are the vivid colors made possible by the silkscreen process. The blacks and dark blues are rich and lustrous, and the reds, yellows and hot pinks are crisp and vivid. Although designed to promote cutting-edge bands, these posters have a classic appeal.
They should be of interest to anyone drawn to graphic arts, even those who've never heard of Death Cab for Cutie.