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Review | In the galleries: Two shows, one artist, many layers of meaning

The largest piece in Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann’s “Knot Forest” is a collage of translucent painted-vinyl shards arrayed on the Popcorn Gallery’s bank of curved windows, where it’s tempered by natural light and shadow. By contrast, all but one of the works in the local artist’s “Murmuration” are tidily framed on the walls of Morton Fine Art. Yet both shows have a sense of openness and spontaneity exemplified by areas of billowing sumi ink, whose seemingly liquid blackness is one of Mann’s trademarks.

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The mixed-media artist is known for large and often sprawling drawing-paintings that are fundamentally abstract yet incorporate nature imagery, mostly botanical. (The depicted leaves and flowers combine ones native to the D.C. area with others common in traditional Chinese painting, where they often convey symbolic import.) Both of these shows include multilayered works that augment Mann’s customary fluid gestures by embedding small three-dimensional objects such as stones, seashells and glass fragments. These mosaic-like pictures also incorporate ink and paint, so that soft flows abut hard edges.

Some of the “Murmuration” pieces add another level by altering the surface beneath or around the pigment. “Swimming” is painted and woodcut-printed on paper that is folded, origami-style, into a sequence of tessellated tiles. Some of the plantlike shapes in “Ewer” are cut out of the paper, contrasting the dense colors with white negative space.

At the Popcorn Gallery, Mann varies her process by inviting everyone into it. Visitors can add snippets of sticky colored vinyl to the window piece, “Salamander Room I,” so that the mural continues to change until the show concludes. Both sunlight and the additions keep the collage in continual flux.

Such mutability is one of the things Mann seeks to conjure, in part by beginning most of her works by pouring watery ink or paint onto paper and letting it dry for several days. This stain, its form and texture beyond the artist’s control, can be overwhelmed by boldly colored painting or survive as the picture’s central focus. In “Gate 2,” a black splash divides the composition and is framed by red-floral blooms on both sides. The juxtaposition gives the eye multiple directions to travel, but that’s typical of Mann’s style. Each of her pictures is a journey, perhaps linear but most likely meandering.

In his large paintings, Cory Oberndorfer distills pop art to just one basic subject: Popsicles and other single-serving frozen confections. The local artist’s prints at the Stone Tower Gallery, adjacent to the Popcorn Gallery, retain his usual topic but shift his style — repeatedly. Oberndorfer’s “Pop: Artists Prints” playfully adopts the signature modes of such artists as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and, of course, Andy Warhol.

Not every art-world notable Oberndorfer emulates is known as part of the pop movement, but all have made prints or used printmaking techniques in their work. Thus Oberndorfer can include a piece in the style of Saul Bass, an exemplary designer of movie posters, trailers and credit sequences, notably for Alfred Hitchcock. Bass wasn’t a gallery artist, but his graphic approach fits neatly into Oberndorfer’s tour of Popsicle-worthy image-makers.

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Murmuration Through Oct. 10 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302. mortonfineart.com. 202-628-2787. Open by appointment.

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Knot Forest and Cory Oberndorfer: Pop: Artists Prints Through Oct. 1 at the Popcorn and Stone Tower galleries, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. glenechopark.org/partnershipgalleries. 301-634-2222.

He’s anything but a narrative painter, yet John Charles Koebert associates some of the pictures in his Foundry Gallery show with stories from his life. His “Selected Works” are hard-edged and usually brightly colored geometric abstractions. Most use shading to simulate depth, so that the flat shapes appear to be either floating or stacked and interlocking, and all but one center on a circle. The exception, “Harmony in a Blue Field,” is not much of one: It features three circles rather than one, but its compositional elements echo those of the other paintings.

Koebert is a D.C.-born Virginian who began an art career after college, diverted into the corporate world and returned to painting after retiring in 2016. While most of these pictures are simply named, a few have garrulous titles such as “If You See Doug, Tell Him Henry’s Come Home,” which is attached to an uncharacteristically black, gray and white canvas. Wall texts explain the longer titles with personal reminiscences whose links to the paintings are not visually evident. Both the pictures and the stories are evocative, even if the combinations may make more sense in Koebert’s mind than to the viewer’s eye.

John Charles Koebert: Selected Works Through Oct. 1 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW. foundrygallery.org. 202-232-0203.

A flock of chickens surround a nestlike basket. Birds cover a wall and dangle from the ceiling. Dyed recycled T-shirts are rendered into rugs and tapestries with semi-traditional Mayan designs.

Fashioned by craftspeople from Central and South America, these handmade talismans give a tropical vibe to “Mother Earth: Fine Fiber Art From the Middle of the Americas” at the Amy Kaslow Gallery. In addition to castoff T-shirts, the raw materials include palm fronds, native woods, recycled paper and tiny beads.

Produced mostly by members of cooperatives, the artworks draw heavily on indigenous plant and animal motifs. Although the members of Guatemala’s Multicolores Collective often employ geometric designs, animal forms nestle between the bars, diamonds and zigzags. The Emberá and Wounaan weavers — from Panama and Colombia, respectively — weave jar-shaped baskets as well as ritual bird masks with elaborate plumage and protruding beaks. Colombia’s Casanare Sculptors construct animal heads from secondhand material that is given a jewel-like finish with delicate beadwork. Juan Carlos Arango and Angela Matiz, also from Colombia, repurpose leftover wood to make mobiles of streamlined birds whose pencil-like bodies are dwarfed by large rippling wings. “Mother Earth” both celebrates nature’s abundance and demonstrates human ingenuity.

Mother Earth: Fine Fiber Art From the Middle of the Americas Through Oct. 1 at Amy Kaslow Gallery, 7920 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. amykaslowgallery.com.

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