Not exactly a garden spot, the gallery exhibiting Laurel Lukaszewski’s ceramics is a windowless room in the Artists & Makers complex, which sits in a charmless, light-industrial section of Rockville. But the local artist conjures two sorts of natural environments — terrestrial and aquatic — with her playful “Garden of Desires.” One imaginary place is populated by rabbits that hop over flowers and through walls; the other features bowls covered with white “barnacles” and free-standing octopuses.

Made mostly of stoneware, and exhibited alongside more traditional porcelain items, the vertically mounted creatures are delightfully animated. Tentacles appear to gyrate and partial rabbits protrude from the wall, seemingly in the midst of inter-dimensional leaps. One bunny is divided into two bounding halves, separated by a spray of black porcelain blooms to convey the sense that the animal is bounding above or through the foliage. All the figures are hand-built and embellished with complex floral patterns that were rendered freehand in blue on white or white on black.

Some of the rabbits and octopuses are attached to or incorporated into bowls, and nearby are simpler, more functional vessels that hint at Lukaszewski’s onetime pottery studies in a remote Japanese town. A set of liquor cups and flasks is designated for otsukimi, the autumn moon-viewing festival. (What’s the link to the other work? In Asian lore, the creature that supposedly can be glimpsed in the moon’s crags is not a man but a rabbit.)

The ceramic beasts are whimsical yet wistful. “The rabbits symbolize all the things I desired but could not have,” says the artist’s statement. That accounts for the “Vessels for Discarded Dreams,” decorated with motifs similar to the others but in gray. And it may explain why the rabbits are so dynamic. They’re exuberant, but also elusive.

Laurel Lukaszewski: Garden of Desires Through June 28 at Artists & Makers, 11810 Parklawn Dr., Rockville.

No illusion of motion enlivens the rabbit at the center of one of Elaine M. Erne’s huge pencil drawings. The stuffed bunny is impaled on a spike, the most violent situation depicted in “They See All,” the Philadelphia artist’s IA&A at Hillyer show. Dolls, plush animals and a rubber duckie populate these odd and elegant pictures, six tiny and four impressively large. Meticulously rendered, the drawings shimmer from multiple layers of tightly applied graphite.

The deep black backdrops represent the toys’ isolation, helplessness and inability to escape, according to a statement by the artist, who notes that her subjects “are used as an allegory for children.” Erne sees her technique as exemplifying her grim themes, but it also offers escape from them. Viewers disturbed by the drawings’ scenarios can nonetheless be uplifted by their exquisite craft.

The prints in Walter Rindone’s “Tales From the Deep Dark Web” are almost as big and dark as Erne’s drawings, and include a teddy bear among the myriad characters. But the black-and-white collages in this show, also at IA&A, are more eclectic, and even chaotic.

The Italian-born artist, who is based in Poland, begins with the Romantic engravings made by 19th-century French artist Gustav Doré for an edition of the Bible. He jumbles these with enlarged newspaper halftones and other images, including famed European paintings, to make ominous, overwhelming scenes. The tumult may flow from the deep dark Web, but Rindone’s reliance on biblical illustrations suggests that contemporary miseries have venerable precedents.

Elaine M. Erne: They See All and Walter Rindone: Tales From the Deep Dark Web Through July 2 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.

The winners of Photoworks’ annual photo slams are chosen during public slide shows where the audience voices its approval. To judge by the latest results, the crowd had eclectic tastes. This year’s champs are Anh Tran, who makes lustrous black-and-white portraits; Smita Parida, whose artfully posed photograms involve cicadas; and Thomas Wanat, who submitted a single stunning image of a glacial lagoon in Iceland.

The sky and water in Wanat’s photo are streaky gray, but the icebergs are an intense blue, energizing the otherwise monochromatic scene. A darker shade of blue dominates Parida’s work, a cyanotype series inspired by the 2021 arrival of the Brood X cicadas. The artist collected wings and exoskeletons and exposed them directly to photo paper, and used digital negatives. The intricate compositions include “Rose Window,” which arrays the insects as if in a cathedral’s circular window. Nature motifs are common in architectural ornaments, but Parida’s buggy approach is novel.

Made in Washington, New York City and the artist’s native Vietnam, Tran’s portraits are mostly naturalistic. The photographer skillfully fixes the depth of field to emphasize his subjects’ faces while conveying their surroundings. An exception to his usual style is a picture of a woman in a bathtub who displays an arm and a leg, while a mannequin’s arm and leg on the floor imply that half the subject’s limbs have come loose. As eerie as it is funny, the photo demonstrates that Tran is as adept with the surreal as the real.

2022 Photo Slam Winners Through July 3 at Photoworks, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo.

Some of the nine finalists in this year’s Bethesda Painting Awards live as far from Gallery B, the show’s venue, as Williamsburg, Va., or Towson, Md. Stylistically, however, these D.C., Maryland and Virginia artists are neighbors. All are representational oil painters who depict everyday and mostly domestic subjects. Portraits, still lifes and suburban vignettes abound in this quiet show.

Among the highlights are Rachel Rush’s large, vivid pictures of frame-filling foliage, which turn sketchy around the edges; Kate Fleming’s tiny, red-flecked studies of car-culture features and locations; Grace Doyle’s overhead view of a woman and a cat on a circular canvas; and Nicole Santiago’s luminous portrait of a cornrowed woman. (Santiago won “best in show,” but for an eventful still life, not this painting.) Least like the others are Trace Miller’s slightly cubist renderings of bare-tree forests and Jeffrey Deane Hall’s paintings of precisely stacked books.

Those books cast complicated shadows, and light-and-shadow play is equally crucial to Fleming’s and Lindsay Mueller’s miniatures of commonplace outdoor stuff. Illumination turns warmer in Stephanie Cobb’s environmental portraits and Julio Valdez’s treatments of people submerged in waters whose rippled surfaces are dotted with jewel-like facets. Of these artists, Valdez is not alone in highlighting the skin of things.

Bethesda Painting Awards Through July 2 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., #E, Bethesda.


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