Plenty of artists would cringe if the word “workmanlike” were used to describe their output, but Jill Townsley embraces it. In an exhibit appropriately titled “TOIL,” Townsley creates her art by painstakingly repeating humble processes like scribbling. That’s not a new idea—artists from Cy Twombly to Linn Meyers have tried it. But Townsley takes to her tasks with the jittery determination of Adrian Monk. In a series of five large-scale pen-on-paper works, Townsley lays down so much ink, squiggle by overlapping squiggle, that only a smattering of white pinpoints remain, turning what was once a blank sheet into a delicate, starry sky. The artist adds to this conceit a new dimension—time—through a video-screen installation, using stop-motion photography to show her determined doodles evolving from blank slate to finished work. As viewers move upstairs to the higher of Project 4’s two floors, they’re in for an even bigger surprise: an entire alcove filled with a virtual cityscape made from small paper rolls used for printing cash-register receipts, each elongated to a different height. One wonders what’s harder: Building the thing in the first place, or having to move it when the exhibit closes?
“Toil” is on view noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays to Oct. 13 at Project 4, 1353 U St. NW, Suite No. 302. Free. project4gallery.com. (202) 232-4340.