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Flashpoint Gallery has a quick fix for your autumn blues: an exuberant and immersive exhibition of work by local artist Erin Curtis.
For her first solo show in the District, Curtis contributed 14 recent paintings—at least, they look like paintings at first glance—as well as a group of site-specific installations that overflow into every nook and cranny of the gallery.
Curtis’ works are so arresting thanks in part to her palette: An array of bright and saturated hues, which she splices and layers in lively geometric patterns. Her paintings, in particular, rely on stark juxtapositions of deep cool and warm tones—pinks, reds, oranges, violet, turquoise, and blues. The compositions are well balanced, if occasionally overwrought.
The real draw of Curtis’ works, however, is her cut-and-paste collage technique. She forms her patterns in part by cutting geometric shapes—diamonds, stars, teardrops—out of a fully painted canvas, and then stretching what remains over a second and sometimes third painting. In some cases, the cutouts are refilled with shapes that don’t perfectly match their surroundings, like misplaced puzzle pieces; other times they are left empty, offering glimpses of the underlying painting. The effect is as playful as it is optically challenging, particularly in “Double Vision” and “Speaks,” works whose layers are impossible to keep track of.
According to the exhibition statement, Curtis draws inspiration from “hand-made textiles, body ornamentation, and 20th-century weavings.” But it’s her painterly antecedents that first come to mind for me. In some of the small canvases, underlying grids of radiating squares or maze-like stripes recall the color-field experiments of American post-war pioneers like Sol LeWitt and Frank Stella. When Curtis ventures into more organic territory, the interplay of color and pattern is less subtle but no less engrossing than in a David Hockney set design.
Some of Curtis’ titles are suggestive of her source material, though the allusions can feel tenuous. In “Anthropology,” the foreground painting is composed of crosshatched splashes of greens and teals decorated with coral waves, eyehole cutouts, and small black silhouettes of vases, kettles, and amphorae. A former Fulbright scholar to India, she is perhaps making reference to the myopic gaze of the academic when confronted with an unfamiliar culture. But the ornamentation is so lighthearted that this critical perspective gets lost.
The focal point of the show is a bright and riotous installation that occupies the gallery’s longest wall. Incorporating several of Curtis’ freestanding paintings, it includes a wall mural of abstract forms in Day-Glo colors, colorful assemblages that dangle from the ceiling, and hanging strips of painted canvases incised to mimic lattices and shutters (these double as the stencils used to paint the mural).
Though Curtis’ interest in weaving is apparent in her use of woven string and unstretched canvas for wall hangings, the mural’s colors—from aquamarine and mint green to coral and canary yellow—and pleasantly imperfect handmade shapes owe more to contemporary DIY culture than global textile traditions. No matter. Even when the conceptual goals don’t perfectly align with the results, this is a space where one can’t help but delight.
916 G St. NW. Free (202) 315-1305. culturaldc.org