Review | In the galleries: The medium of paper carries multiple messages

“A Paean to Paper” takes its title from Holly Stone’s large papyrus cylinder, embellished with quotations that extol the power of paper to convey written information. That’s paper’s usual function, but the works shown in the 12-artist Sandy Spring Museum exhibition more broadly celebrate the versatility of paper, whether to imitate other materials or simply to reveal its innate properties.

The most dramatic examples of paper’s adaptability are Sookkyung Park’s constructions, which include oft-exhibited models of the sun, the moon and a wave made of myriad spray-painted origami-folded sheets. Floating over these structures are two looser ones from Park’s “Blooming” series, masses of white paper lotus-leaf forms that dangle from the ceiling. The hanging sculptures do have a textual element, but it’s crowdsourced: Pens are available to write messages on ribbons to be incorporated into the cascade.

Also drawn from nature are Frances Vye Wilson’s wispy creations made of mulberry fiber. Some stand strong in emulation of trees, and others are tattered wall pieces with imprinted outlines of human faces. Three-dimensional faces also protrude from Limor Dekel’s collages, but they’re molded from scraps of raw brown cardboard. Some of Sonya Michel’s assemblages employ found cardboard, including an egg carton, while one paints a floral-like picture with colored pulp. The latter technique is one of many employed by Cookie Kerxton, whose colorful inventions include quiltlike patterns.

Strips of unreadable text wrap silhouettes of a tree and a person in Juliet Drake Hossain’s intricate and elegant assemblages, and blocks of what Maria Barbosa calls “out-of-context words” are the backdrop to multihued boxes in one of her bold collages. Snippets of articles from this newspaper are actually legible in Taina Litwak’s works, notably one for which she cut and stained bits of climate-change stories into facsimiles of yellow ginkgo leaves. In a show so attuned to the natural world, Litwak achieves an eloquent balance of image and import.

A Paean to Paper Through July 24 at the Sandy Spring Museum, 17901 Bentley Rd., Sandy Spring. 301-774-0022.

Minimalism gets a twist — and a fruit-hued color scheme — in Mimi Herbert’s molded acrylic sculptures. The local sculptor’s Amy Kaslow Gallery exhibition, “Folds,” is her first solo gallery show in more than a decade.

Herbert, who turned from bronze to plastic almost 60 years ago, is still working in the same mode as her 1974 “Red Triplet,” a neatly pleated, single-color creation on display at the National Gallery of Art. But the 87-year-old’s new works expand her established style. Some “Folds” sculptures are fantastically shaped and maneuver multiple sheets to contrast colors or qualities.

“Quark” puts a translucent yellow membrane, flamboyantly rumpled, atop a tidily doubled one that’s opaque peach. “Shakti” partly interlaces a loose form, also translucent yellow, with a solid one that’s only slightly less unruly. Even single-sheet sculptures such as the cherry-red “Scarlet” are extravagantly mussed. The sculptures placed near windows are activated by sunlight that yields a neon-like glow.

However free-form they appear, the sculptures are carefully planned. They’re modeled in paper before Herbert and her assistants relax the plastic over a light box that can reach 300 degrees. The shaping is done in less than a minute, since heating them longer can cause flaws. The result is a permanently fixed composition given kinetic energy by shape and light. The sculptures don’t move yet seem to retain a memory of their brief moment of fluidity.

Mimi Herbert: Folds Through July 21 at Amy Kaslow Gallery, 7920 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda.

Heather Jones & Scott Troxel

Their sometimes garrulous titles suggest that Heather Jones’s paintings tell stories. Yet the 12 pictures in the D.C. artist’s Cabada Contemporary show, “Pieces,” are purely abstract. Constructed of flat, hard-edge but usually curving slabs of color, the compositions evoke mysterious interiors or extreme close-ups. Some of the elements appear almost typographical, although with characters so enlarged that only unreadable details endure.

Perhaps Jones simply likes pink, but its prevalence gives her work a fleshy quality. The hue is often pitted against shades of green, as in an impressive diptych, “The Healing Wasn’t Pretty.” The color blocks in this epic painting frame a small red triangle that’s nestled near the middle and split across the two canvases. Given the picture’s title, the crimson shape may represent some sort of wound. When the painting is viewed as pure abstraction, however, the triangle registers as visual wit. The way the scarlet form both centers and challenges the rest of the artwork is likely to draw a smile.

In the smallest Jones painting, “Incense and Honey,” overlaid gray shapes provide an uncharacteristic illusion of depth. That makes the picture a congenial neighbor to five nearby sculptures by Scott Troxel. The Philadelphia-area artist’s “Small Pops” consists of shaped wooden pieces, usually but not always painted. The sleekly made circles, swoops and rays cluster tightly together, so the combinations resemble streamlined machines. The parts fit together so neatly that the assemblages seem as if they ought to be functional.

Pieces: Abstracts by Heather Jones and Scott Troxel: Small Pops Through July 16 at Cabada Contemporary, 1054 31st St. NW, #009. 703-629-5751.

The journey, it’s often said, is more important than the destination. But is that true when the journey is virtual? That’s among the questions posed by “Darwin: The View From the Road,” Nora Sturges’s series of postcard-size realist paintings of the route of the HMS Beagle from 1832 to 1836. That’s the voyage that took naturalist Charles Darwin from Britain to the Galápagos Islands, and partway to the theory of evolution.

The Baltimore artist tracked Darwin’s epochal trip via Google Street View, which isn’t known for ocean scenes. So the vignettes are all of sites on land, where humanity’s sway is obvious. Houses, storefronts and a yard full of large shipping containers are among Sturges’s subjects. The only picture that links to Darwin’s legacy is one in which a turtle hatches from a shell; it might be a real reptile, but it seems more likely to be a statue.

The series is not documentary; Sturges identifies the paintings only by number, not location. The painter began the project during the pandemic, so one goal was simply to get out of the house, even if only visually. But the series is also an investigation into what the artist’s statement calls “a time that is undeniably Anthropocene.” Where Darwin searched to understand secrets of nature, Sturges finds a world where mankind dominates every street view.

Nora Sturges: Darwin: The View From the Road Through July 21 at Common Ground Gallery, VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200.

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