Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

 'Personal Geometry'

Through February 23 at McLean Project for the Arts (second floor of the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean). Gallery Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Saturdays 1 – 5 p.m. For more information, call 703-790-1953, or see www.mpaart.org.

The work of seven female artists and one male artist make up the current offerings at McLean Project for the Arts (MPA). It might not seem like such a surprise that virtually all of them exhibit some sense of quilting or weaving in their work. It's a quality I'm seeing a lot of in women's art of late. One could argue that it fits with the stereotypical notion of women's social emphasis on interconnectedness and community. Or maybe it's some quirky curatorial vibe in the air of late. It’s one of those things that makes one go “Hmmmmm.”
The marque show in the main gallery features the abstract paintings of David Carlson, Betsy Damos, Carol Brown Goldberg, Francie Hester, Kathy Snow Stratton and Lynda Ray.

David Carlson's nine canvases use layered assemblages of arch segments to achieve a sort of swirling movement that at times recalls Kandinsky. Betsy Damos renders semi-abstract fields of botanical foliage overlaid with rectilinear flag-like compositions that seem to contrast the natural world with the man-made.

Carol Brown Goldberg combines abstract expressionist paint drippings with a color gradated dot grid that borders on pop-art. Rigid and static compositions find movement and playfulness in color gradations and the twinkle of ground glass.

Kathy Snow Stratton weaves nearly monochromatic color fields by dripping paints across up-ended canvases, then rendering thread-like lines across its surface. The end result is quiet canvases that seem simple, but harbor great complexity and visual texture upon close inspection. They feel like islands of calm sanctuary in the roiling sea of chaos that makes up modern life as we know it.

Lynda Ray employs encaustic (pigmented wax) to render images of wire-frame geometric shapes superimposed upon quilt-like chevron patterned fields.

Francie Hester works with sheets of honeycombed aluminum — two flat sheets of aluminum sandwiching a structural honeycomb of thin aluminum — variously embellishing and distressing its surfaces. Acrylic paints and wax are dripped in a lumpy, curving, free flowing line, followed by colored quilt-like grid works and topped off with fine rows of straight lines. Along the way, surfaces are distressed by drilling and grinding, which is a bit like saying you bake a cake by adding ingredients and heating it.

It's not so much what Hester does to the surfaces of her works, so much as the subtleties and modulations thereof. The lyrical rise and fall of emotional elements within her compositions makes these the great works that they are. Hester juxtaposes and interplays unbridled freedom and raw aggression with tight rigid control, simultaneously coloring both inside and outside the lines. The ease and deftness of the transitions thereof make the images sing.

The small 18×7-inch Vestige series, numbered 74 through 83, is especially nice. With limited quilting of the image, and more emphasis on the drilled and abused surface, they have a raw masculine feel to them. It's frankly quite surprising to see this sort of work coming from a woman, it's gutsy and tough stuff. It's the sort of work that immediately reminds me of Byron Clercx's work in the Arlington Art Center’s “Fresh Paint” show reviewed here last January, which gives you an idea of how hard it is to come by work of this quality.

Good abstraction is one of the toughest things to do well, and one of the easiest to do badly. Absent any representational depictions to lean on, it's probably best related to a capella singing. You'd better be able to carry a tune flawlessly if you plan on doing it without a band to cover up the goofs and glitches. When abstraction goes bad, there's nowhere to hide.

Interestingly, “Vestige 84” displays the other end of Hester's range. Here we see a 55×65-inch aluminum honeycomb panel that could best be described as an aluminum quilt. Interlocking blocks of color overlay a swirling, three-dimensional, freeform line. What fascinates here is the way that line and the coloration on top of it interact. The line becomes a chameleon-like textural element whose coloration changes repeatedly throughout the piece. In many places it seems as though the line has undergone structural changes as well, but close inspection shows that the only change has been the coloration. That line becomes the vehicle through which the visual transitions are modulated and unified. That thread ties the piece together much like a supportive spouse, or some other key thread that runs through your life. As such, it's the key element despite occasional appearances to the contrary. Nice work indeed. Bravo!

In the Atrium gallery, Karey Kessler shows a series of small semi-abstract watercolors of landscape grids illustrating lines of poetry from E. E. Cummings. My favorites were “live the magnificent honesty of space,” “tell me,” “there is a time for timelessness” and “forever is less than nothing which would have been.”
Naomi Chung, one of the artists from the Lee Arts Center’s print studio, shows a substantial body of work in the Ramp gallery. Impressionistic impasto landscape paintings weave lines to show the scale and force of the land around the viewer. The print “Sheep” seems the best of all. Here we see grazing sheep on a hill side. While remaining representational, the piece clearly flirts with abstraction.

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