The lights are low at Hemphill Fine Arts, as if in preparation for a seance. What sort of creature Renee Stout’s eerie “Wild World” might summon from the darkness, though, is impossible to predict.
The D.C. artist draws on African religions, often as filtered through voodoo and Santeria. Her current work also includes a mixed-media piece centered on an actual cross-topped window from a Georgia Avenue storefront church, as well as numerous mechano-spiritual devices assembled from old radios and such. The show’s mysterious magnum opus, “Soul Catcher/Regenerator,” is part African totem, part receiver for broadcasts from the beyond.
In African lore, everyday and supernatural meet at the crossroads.
That’s why it became, in myths about African American bluesmen, the place where a guitarist might sell his soul to the devil. The crossroads-themed pieces in this array include a drawing and two sculptures, including one in which a small hand dangles, calling attention to another intersection: between the flat and the three-dimensional.
Stout has a genius for combining found objects in ways that appear simultaneously natural and strange. Her work can be as simple as a series of spray-painted pictures of neon signs that offer, among other uncanny products, “readings” and “herbs.” But many of these pieces are ornate, employing metal leaf, rhinestones or the red glass that represents a pool of blood on the floor beneath a painting of a bleeding heart. That blood, the viewer can be sure, was not shed carelessly. It must have been part of a powerful rite.