Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

A Trio of Free-For-All Shows

My Space on 7th (Now Closed), at Touchstone Gallery (2nd Floor, 406 7th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.)

1460 Wall Mountables at DCAC though August 31 (D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C. Note: this is a second floor gallery space, with only a doorway on the ground level).823artbeat.jpg

All Arlington Salon at Ellipse Art Center, through Saturday, Sept. 13 (Ellipse Arts Center, 4350 Fairfax Drive, Suite 125, Arlington).

Interestingly enough, these three shows, while similar in basic idea, produce three very different results. Both of the DC shows (My Space on 7th and 1460 Wall Mountables) sold wall space to artists and allowed them to fill the space as they saw fit.

The All Arlington Salon show is another hung-what-you-brung show; however, this one was limited to artists living or working in Arlington, and allowed only one piece per artist. The All Arlington Salon also differed in that it had no entry fee. The Ellipse Arts Center with Arlington County money can do that, where as the other two galleries ran these shows as fund raisers. Galleries often run shows of this sort in the off-peak months to pay the bills, and generate foot traffic when attendance might otherwise be a tad on the lean side. All three of these shows had at least two Falls Church residents in them.

The Touchstone Gallery show tends to draw older more traditional artists, and this year was no exception. Best of all, I liked the work of two sculptors here. Jonathan Ottke had three sculptures that dealt with stacking. One used thinly sliced sections of tree limbs bolted together on a single vertical metal rod. Another used stone stackings, stalagmite and stalactite fashion, with single dandelion seeds delicately attempting to touch each other. Janathal Shaw had several carved African American busts dealing with racial issues.

1460 Wall Mountables at DCAC is the wild and woolly event it usually is. This is the young hip art scene crowd you’d expect to find in the heart of Adams Morgan. All of these shows have their fair share of art works that don’t quite cut it; it’s all part of the hung-what-you-brung ethos. The bad art can be as entertaining as the good stuff, sometimes even more so. Trying too hard is, of course, death to any attempt at being hip. Like bad tattoos and weird piercings in places you don’t want to know about, this show can produce some spectacularly bad results. Mind you, there is also a fair amount of really good stuff here. At 10 bucks for a two-foot square spot, the art here can be stupefyingly cheap at times. Thought-provoking art for $30 doesn’t require a lot of internal debate before a red dot shows up beneath it.

Caitlin Phillips has a series of her book purses here. These are smaller than the ones she showed on the 12th floor of this year’s Art-omatic. Had the review for the 11th and 12th floors of Art-omatic seen print, you’d know Phillips’ purses were one of the best things in the whole building. These aren’t quite that good, but they’re still pretty nice.

Phillips takes old books with catchy titles or cool covers. After gutting the wordy part, she makes purses out of the hardcover bindings. Cloth liners and handles are masterfully matched, often to the point that you’d swear they were patterned after the original end papers. It’s an ingenious concept, and well, we already called them masterful now, didn’t we? They’re the perfect thing to set off a young hip smart and ever so stylish young lady’s ensemble. As any good librarian could warn you, however, don’t get them wet. Quizzically book publishers manufacture them with dyes that seem to bleed nano-seconds after the tiniest bit of water hits them. If you carry around a purse like the one at DCAC titled “English Synonyms Antonyms and Prepositions,” you’d better be a grammarian. Then again, seems like the perfect thing to carry along when applying for that editing job. Of course, guys might give a second thought to asking out the ice queen toting the “Disputed Passages” purse. Choose carefully, ladies, this is one case where a book will definitely be judged by its cover. Phillips also shows her purses at Crafty Bastards events, and on the web at www.rebound-designs.com.

Tina Seamonster needs some sort of award for best nom de plume (we assume). Seamonster’s sliced and varnished log sections resemble some sort of bad kitsch souvenir from the 50s that would read “Home is where you hang your hat.” Only these cutting pieces have weird observations and sayings on them, such as, “Being a vampire must be such a drag, it just goes on and on and on …” or “Sometimes I hate that time is linear. I want it to be a swirly wobble…” It’s hard not to love stuff like this.
Two photographers are real standouts here as well. Kerri Sheehan has a series of photos showing people floating in open water. All you see is a pair of feet – or hand, etc. – rising out of the wavy undulations beneath a vast sky. They seem like people attempting to survive while adrift at sea; could be taken as metaphors for life in general. Matthew Smith has a few diptych style photos that juxtapose disparate items allowing you to make up your own story about the combination. This is one notion that has an especially strong result; it’s all about context and linkages within the mind of the viewer. I liked his untitled piece that showed two slabs of raw steak next to a person in bed. That one was fairly obvious. Others will have you scratching your head for a long time.

All Arlington Salon has produced a frighteningly good show considering how wide open its requirements were. Shockingly, there seems to be no refrigerator art. And almost every one of the 212 pieces on view are of respectable quality. Arlington stands head and shoulders above all the other Northern Va. jurisdictions, so it’s not too surprising to see this result.

I found two pieces especially engaging, both dealing with the concept of female power. Lisa Marie Thalhammer has an especially nice canvas that walks that tantalizing line between painting and drawing. Titled “Portrait of My Cousin,” Thalhammer shows one of her girls and guns series. As I recall, they all are nude to the waist, and toting some sort of firearm. This one is of a spectacled Lisa Loeb-esque young lady, that doesn’t seem quite so lady-like with a rifle, complete with scope, in hand. A similar image of a man would have us questioning his intelligence and intentions. Here we see this woman as both smart, capable, sexy and not to be taken lightly … or else.

A far more subtle, yet just as poignant piece is Jessica van Brakle’s “Towers and Lace.” Here we find a beige, almost skin toned field with three construction cranes rendered in ink, overprinted with a three dimensional lace pattern below. You can find several metaphors here, but the most incisive one seems to be a juxtaposition of feminine and masculine power; a collage of sex and money. It seems to suggest feminine allure is, in fact, the real power driving progress forward. While Thalhammer’s painting has a more modern “Gurl Power” perspective, van Brakle’s piece has a more traditional perspective. Either way, as we all know, women never were as weak as all that “sugar and spice” nonsense would have you believe.

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