Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

828artbeat5.jpgThe Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards 2008, at Heineman Myers Contemporary Art (4728 Hampden Lane, Bethesda, Md.). Runs through September 27. Gallery Hours: 1 – 6 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday. For more information, call 301-951-7900 or visit

The Trawick Prize now in its sixth year has seen some 2,400 applicants, and awarded a total of over $85,000 in prize money. Never mind the principals involved have also run the $14,000 annual Bethesda Painting Awards for the past five years as well. You can quickly surmise that these folks are serious about supporting the local art community in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Far from a capricious process, this years show vetted some 350 applicants, out of which 53 semi-finalists were chosen for closer scrutiny requiring an in-depth level of secondary submissions. In the end, the judging panel selected the 15 finalists for this exhibit, four of whom went home with hefty checks to deposit in the bank.

Maggie Michael got $10,000 for her first prize entry titled “Start Here” – an amalgamated collection of latex, enamel, spray paint, ink, charcoal, stir sticks, and nails on canvas. This wild free-form image seems at its best when Michael applies lurid quantities of paint that look to be skims of semi-dried oil paint flapping down to reveal different colors beneath; it’s of the moment, action and the materials of painting.

Michael bored a small round porthole dead center in the piece that she termed an entry or exit point for the work. It’s an interesting notion, but seems a tad premeditated given the chaos surrounding it and its dead-center positioning. It draws the mind to seek sharp geometric forms and finds sole company in the rectilinear edges of the piece itself, thereby breaking the “fourth wall” and forcing the viewer out of the image – thus forming the sort of brusque exit that the artist probably did not intend. As a fan of Luciano Fontana, I have no problem with artists venting the canvas, though I’m not sure this execution serves the artist’s best intentions.

Maggie Michael’s husband, Dan Steinhilber, took home the $2,000 second prize. Steinhilber, probably the best know of the lot shown here, has garnered several high profile reviews on the local art scene, and is currently represented by G Fine Art gallery. Again, we see an artist’s work engrossed with the act of creating art, the materials at hand and reveling in the fleeting moment of it all.

Steinhilber’s untitled video piece on view here is a riotous production that had the artist filling his apartment with 10 giant bags of white foam packing peanuts, then blowing them around the space with a leaf blower and floor drying fan. The bane of anyone who’s had to chase after errant foam bits after opening a package, this scenario would be something of a neatnic’s worst nightmare.

At times Steinhilber is literally submerged in cascading waves of foam bits, especially when trapped in a dead-end from which they can not escape. The pure audacity of the whole affair comes to its peak as swirls of foam explore every conceivable nook and cranny of the kitchen counter and stove top, then moving on to the bathroom complete with swirling Styrofoam in the toilet.828artbeat6.jpg

It’s difficult to keep from laughing out loud at this work. While it looks like an obscene amount of mischievous fun, Steinhilber reports that it was a tad terrifying to do. Immersed in the reality of the event he equates it to a fear of drowning, while we the viewers can only appreciate the visual whorls of foam delineating the internal aerodynamics of Steinhilber’s living space. All I can say is I’m glad I didn’t have to clean up after this one. Like Christmas tree needles in the carpet, I suspect they’ll be finding foam bits for years to come.

Steinhilber also has an excellent photo of a long, white florescent tube he whacked with a broom handle. It also speaks to the material, action and time of the event; however, it seems hopelessly anti-climactic after the engrossing flying foam video.

Bernhard Hildebrandt took the $1,000 third prize, and Ryan Browning took the $1,000 Young Artist under 30 award (sponsored by the Fraser Gallery), being the only finalist qualifying for that prize.

Ryan Browning’s painting titled “Avatar” has an enigmatic red-orange geometric figure that’s struggling to make its way across an Arctic landscape towards waiting icebergs. There is something of a visual parallel between the two, though the Avatar has arrived at great personal expense, shedding sheet metal like panels of itself along the way. As the title implies, Browning reveals that the piece is about the digital online world. It seems a barren, cold and inhospitable environment, where one tries in vain to make contact with similar beings – not exactly an endorsement for chat rooms and online dating.

Both Kristin Holder and Warren Craghead III are in touch with their inner child and drawing on the wall itself. Holder uses transfer paper to make an image reminiscent of a dried tumbleweed. Craghead draws obsessively on post cards and mails them to essentially anyone willing to give him their address. The extended wall drawing around his postcards might require a few more stamps though.

Baby Martinez offers up a selection of squashed trash photos and then masterfully recreates the packaging in white 80-pound paper; she completes the effect by squashing them as well. The fairly complex hard pack cigarette box seems the zenith of this work. The squashed forms sans color or logos forces us to reconsider what all this tossed packaging is all about … is it packaging or is it marketing?

Molly Springfield has three tromp loi drawings of Xerox-copied art books. Such an expenditure of time and effort to imitate what we normally see as something just this side of worthless, yet important is quizzically ingenious. Had the source materials been original rather than copies of existing books, these images might have been in the top three.

Heide Trepanier’s anthropomorphic abstract painting was certainly worthy of award. Bizarre as it sounds, Trepanier reports that throwing paint is one of the most important things in her life – and after viewing this canvas you’re likely to see why. Think of this as a combination of Dr. Suess and Jackson Pollock, and you’ll have a glimmer of insight into it’s captivating qualities.

Trepanier’s slung paint seems so alive with near-representation that it could not possibly be done in a haphazard fashion. Yet examining the flows of paint, you can’t imagine any other way of doing it. The edges of color fields are often sharply outlined with fine black lines, which gives it all a deliberate illustrative quality. Yet it’s all wonderfully ill-defined as to what it’s all about. You could look at this work for years and never be fully sure if that’s a rooster, or some internal organ atop the white wave of paint. The whole image is like that, providing endless wonderment and entertainment. I sometimes waggishly quip that abstraction is just like representational work – you just stop before it looks like something. In that vein, Trepanier has a finely honed sense of when to stop. This is one artist’s work I definitely want to see more of.

This Friday evening, Sept. 12, the Trawick Prize show will be part of the monthly Second Friday Bethesda Art Walk which has 12 area art galleries open with extended hours from 6 – 9 p.m. For map and details, see

Additionally, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sept. 13, visit the Bethesda Place Plaza (at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Woodmont Avenue) hosting the Bethesda Artist’s Market with 30 artists selling their work. See above link for more info.

The same idea, but closer to home, has the Ballston Arts and Crafts Market also open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m Sept. 14, in Welburn Square (between Wilson Blvd and N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington). This month’s “back to cool” theme reminds us summer weather is waning. For map and details, see

Fourth Annual Metamorphosis Art Show, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m Sept. 14. Same neighborhood as the Ballston Art Market, has Willow Restaurant (4301 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington) hosting the work of 27 artists with complimentary food. Free. For more details, see
Speedy Tolliver Fiddle & Banjo Fest, from noon – 4 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Lubber Run Amphitheatre (N. 2nd & N. Columbus Streets, Arlington). For more information, call 703-228-1850. Admission is Free.

Artist Opportunities

5x5x5, at Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria). Deadline for submissions is October 1. Entries must be no larger than 5 inches in any direction. Entry fee of $35 for submission of up to three works, with a $10 fee for each additional submission. For complete details and an entry form, call 703-838-4565 ext. 4, or visit