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Northern Virginia Art Beat




Cellular Perspectives: Works by Betsy Stewart, and Patrick Craig, Comfort Zones: Paintings by Michele Montalbano. Spaces of Places: Tom Wagner.artbeat1-copy.jpg

These exhibits run through Feb. 21 at McLean Project for the Arts, second floor in the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave, McLean). Gallery hours are Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Saturday, 1 – 5 p.m. For further information, call 703-790-1953, or visit www.mpaart.org.

Microcosmic

Cellular Perspectives in the Emerson Gallery at MPA hosts the paintings of two artists working around the notion of microcosms. While neither Betsy Stewart nor Patrick Craig explicitly define their works, they’re both strongly influenced by biology on the smallest levels.

Craig’s paintings have a distinctly Escher quality to them, as they tend to leave perspective orientation in a state of flux, and thus somewhat animated as the perspective flops back and forth depending on how you orient yourself within the work. The images have a strong geometric simplification about them, leaving you in a quirky place where you have to decide if the objects depicted are manmade or natural, or possibly a cross between the two in some sort of engineered biology. For all their apparent simplicity, they defy definitive classification.

Stewart also works on the micro scale, employing geometric devices, yet her paintings are far easier for the viewer to arrive at some personal resolution. Loosely based on the ecology of pond water, they seem chaotic at first glance. Many of her works have the sides painted in a rectilinear fashion, not unlike children’s building blocks: while the sides have a sense of rigidity, their assemblage scheme is not readily apparent.

For Stewart, the sides of her works symbolize the underlying structural order and interconnectedness, no matter how haphazard and chaotic things may seem. We aren’t necessarily invited to understand the overarching order beyond the simple fact that it exists. In this way, one could say the works are almost faith-based on a basic, even scientific level.

Examining the images at greater depth one begins to realize the assorted organisms congregate in groupings according to their type. Like attracts like, and in turn begot like. As such, there exists a sense that these groupings form communities, and that the community of communities forms the overall ecosystem. You can draw some fairly clear metaphoric parallels with the way people associate, or disassociate, with one another.

Variety is the spice of life, and the variety here provides textural interest and complexity, which we like. But when it comes to comfort and safety, we like to be amongst our own kind, however we may define such. This is especially true when it comes to raising offspring. Thus, despite the absence of overt sexuality, these paintings have a distinct undercurrent of procreation, and seem more alive for it.

The mystery in Craig’s paintings are up front and force us to deal with those issues before proceeding too much further with them. Conversely, the mystery in Stewart’s paintings quietly await our arrival to that point. If one wishes to take them at face value for simple decoration, they won’t force the issue. However, they offer far more should you seek it out.

Active Chromatic

Michele Montalbano has a series of interior architectural paintings in the Atrium Gallery at MPA. Like Stewart’s works, Montalbano’s paintings can operate on the superficial and decorative level if that’s as far as you want to take it, but they, too, offer deeper concepts if you’re willing to dig for them.

artbeat2-copy.jpgMontalbano’s interiors are often assembled out of flat vibrant color fields that just so happen to be in the shape of a wall, flooring or furnishings. While remaining firmly grounded in the representational arena, they flirt with the notion of abstract geometric compositions. Her depopulated paintings in phantasmagorical color schemes remind one of shelter magazine photo spreads run amok. Even the ’70s weren’t this chromatically active – thank God! While they’re highly entertaining as paintings, the color schemes depicted would drive you batty as a loon if you had to live inside them.

What makes Montalbano’s paintings especially interesting is the way they offer an expanded sense of time to the place. The most successful images here are the “Trace” series: paintings over paintings that allow the painting underneath to bleed through. It’s as if the room itself had a memory for us, our belongings and the way we decorated the place. While displayed en mass, as all art shows tend to be, the paintings read as individual canvases. However, one of the most entertaining ways to think of them is displayed in matched sets where available. The resulting display would offer the same expanded sense of time as the multi-layered paintings.

Industry in Color

Tom Wagner shows a collection of paintings in the ramp gallery that revolve around the notion of industrial architecture, often complete with transfer chutes between buildings.

Note: The Saturday open studio figure drawing has been added to the regular open studio program. MPA now has one of the most extensive (and cheapest) open studio programs around town, available on Tuesday, 7 – 9:30 p.m. $8 each session; Thursday, 1 – 4 p.m. $9 each session; and Saturday (long poses), 4 – 7:30 p.m. $9 each session.

Local Reminder

Open call for Illuminations: All member Falls Church Arts show and sale at Don Beyer Volvo show room and the new Pearson Square FCA facility. No entry fee, aside from the required paid-up membership for 2009. Entry forms for up to two works must be received by this Saturday, Feb. 14. See www.fallschurcharts.org for complete details.

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