Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

‘The Narrative Figure: Work by Lee Arts Center Workshop Artists’

Through January 19 (gallery is closed the week of Christmas and New Years. Re-opens January 2) at Ellipse Arts Center, 4350 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 125, Arlington. Gallery Hours: Wednesday though Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 703-228-7710 or visit www.arlingtonarts.org/ellipseartscenter.htm.

The Lee Arts Center on Lee Highway in Arlington continues to be one of the best-kept secrets around town. They possess an odd combination at their facilities. The ground floor is used for senior day care activities, while the second floor is all about art, as it houses a first-rate clay and printing studios. While one can throw clay just about anywhere, printing presses are a tad less portable, and fairly uncommon at best. The hallway between the two studios serves as their mini-gallery, and almost always features one of the artists working there.

If you don’t work in clay or make prints, odds are you don’t even know the place exists, which is unfortunate considering the excellent work that goes on there.

Lee Arts Center director and potter, Novi Trump, curated this show at Arlington County’s Ellipse Arts Center. The Narrative Figure is comprised of work done by five artists having participated in the Lee Center Workshop programs. Oddly enough, none of the five are actually from Virginia. Two are from Maryland, while the other three make up a southern swing through North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Elizabeth Wolf (Bethesda, Md.) is no doubt the most well known on the local art scene. She is generally known for her colorful and decorative prints. The ‘Mamma’ series of seven female figures shown here, reveal an edgier side to her work than we’ve seen before. She produces dark, almost monochromatic prints. Hardly festive, these images deal with the gritty and serious side of motherhood.

‘X-Ray Mamma’, with a breast form on one side of the figure and rib-like stripes on the other, seems to be dealing with breast cancer issues. ‘Blue Madonna’ depicts the Mamma figure being groped from behind by a lover made up of watch gears. With one arm akimbo and eyes that roll skyward, she seems more weary than wanton. ‘Monumental Momma’ has her holding a baby and a clock. Over her right shoulder, her lover’s face is all but rubbed out. Motherhood has taken her from making time to clutching at what little time she has.

Nan Smith (Gainesville, Fla.) continues the notion of femininity and motherhood in her five porcelain white earthenware sculptures. Tableaus of objects placed in close proximity to a female head and shoulders, they make up a sort of three dimensional portrait of a woman at her desk or dressing table. To my eye the most successful of Smith’s works here is ‘Pathway.’ A pair of rather Victorian female shoes/boots stand at the back of a platform disc. Up front a pair of children’s feet playfully dangle toes over the edge. There is just enough ankle and leg there for the viewer to project the figure upwards, to indicate the child leaning back against its mother. A wonderfully simple yet poignantly powerful statement on the concomitant childhood needs for exploration and secure support.

Alfredo Ratinoff (Hyattsville, Md.) provides a series of small study drawings supporting his series of fritware plates embellished with what looks to be graphite drawings and then glazed. A different esthetic is shown in a separate series of raw terracotta sculptures of obese female figures. It is the most playful and humorous of his works here.

 Debra Fritts (Rosewell, Ga.) combines terracotta female figures with found objects that “dwell on the mysteries and joy of daily life.” Carol Owen (Pittsboro, N.C.) has a series of 20 foamcore structures painted and filled with mementos and odd bits to form ‘Spirit Houses’ dealing with memories that inform us about the people around her.
Lisa Clague (Bakersville, N.C.) has the most captivating work of all in this show. ‘Convoluted Dream’ is an amazing piece of work. A life-sized two-headed, and six-mammeried torso, skirted with tutu. Both heads wear masks. One is of a long toothy beak that seems half porpoise and half toucan. Topping that head is a tall framework crown.

Gazing downward it seems introspective and cautious. With little bite per se, it certainly could peck you to death in short order. The other head sports a long horned mask of some grazing animal. Tilted back in a cocky carefree way, it projects a decidedly masculine persona. A dream state figure such as this could go in almost any direction, but I get the vibe that it’s about the varied and at times diametrically opposed demands placed on women in today’s society. It’s hardly an inviting persona. Were it alive, you’d want to keep a couple of paces away from this thing. No telling what it’s liable to try and do to you, no doubt with little forewarning.

‘Molded Earth’

Through January 20 at The Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 North Union St., Alexandria). Gallery hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For information, call 703-838-4565 (extension 4), or see www.torpedofactory.org.

Exhibit is a judged pottery show with no overriding theme. One fairly surrealistic piece titled  ‘Sugar and Spice’ by Greg Penner would fit right in with the Lee Center figurative show.

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