Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

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Kate McGraw + Ann Tarantino: Workbook,” at Flashpoint (916 G St. NW, Washington, D.C.). The exhibit runs through April 17. Gallery hours are noon – 6 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday, or by appointment. For further information, call 202-315-1310 or visit

Flashpoint recently offered up its walls to the mark-making abilities of Kate McGraw and Ann Tarantino. The collaborative painting and drawing duo filled the gallery walls floor to ceiling, front to back with their abstract composition, largely done with graphite and paint.

Tarantino provided the splashed, dripped and compressed air-blown paint flourishes. While those marks are expressive enough in their own way, it’s the no holds barred all-out drawing of McGraw that really stands out here.

The accompanying video of the piece in progress bears clear testimony to what you can surmise just from glancing at the walls: this is some serious drawing going on here. The wall opposite the gallery desk seems the strongest and certainly the most cohesive passage in this piece.

Having strained my own shoulder during what most people consider an intensely aggressive drawing style, I worry about this poor girl’s rotator cuff et al. Simply stated, it’s a frenzied full body attack on the wall surface with graphite sticks. It’s even a two-fisted attack at times, when she employs her drummer-like slashing mark-making. You’d almost have to do this sort of drawing directly on the wall surface, as few if any types of paper could survive this sort of abuse without being torn to shreds. Short of using mechanical devices, you can’t get the human body to make more aggressive marks than this.

The left side of the above wall begins with undulating smears, which we can see from the video were made by using the whole arm and twisting-turning body motions to achieve the effect. This aquatic flow melds into a series of wheel-like marks running roughly three quarters of the way down the wall. Each circle was made by a giant windmill circular arm motion. Those wheel marks melding into staccato horizontal slashes seem to depict a school of swimming sperm.

In fact, the artist exclaims as much upon completing those marks in the video. It’s an interesting effect where the wall is struck with such force that the graphite stick bounces off the wall almost immediately after making contact, leaving a dot. It then returns to the wall after leaving a gap, to record a trailing flyaway tail.

The whole wall seems to be a flowing metaphor for the ubiquity and necessity of motion in the natural world, the mechanized society in which we live and even to its own creation.

This is one of those can’t miss works for fans of drawing.

Life’s Metaphysics

Eric Thor Sandberg: Cyclical Nature, at Conner Contemporary Art (1358-60 Florida Ave NW, Washington D.C.). The exhibit runs through May 23. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Wednesday – Saturday For further information, call 202-588-8750 or visit

Some around town would say Eric Sandberg is the best painter in town. Awarding anyone that crown seems a tad iffy in such a diverse artistic field, but leave no doubt about it: Sandberg is certainly one of the very best.

Known for large-scale figurative paintings that reach into the 10 -14 feet-tall range at times, Sandberg paints in an old master style not unlike Caravaggio. A combination of humor and symbolism gives his allegorical images a quirky bizarreness like no other. Often times you can read about half of the image literally, but then you’re met with incongruous information that makes you wonder if you’re on the right track at all. Which, of course, is how life really is – we have the clues to figure things out, but the messages often get garbled by noise not germane to the subject at hand.

The canvases can be highly entertaining and head-scratching all at the same time. In this set of six canvases currently on view at Conner, Sandberg deals with death in the wake of his father’s passing last year.

“Swing” depicts an old man about to chop down the tree of life with four allegorical figures in its branches. “Course” presents four allegorical figures riffing on the theme of life and death, and the choice between the rational and irrational aspects of life.

“Fleet” depicts a young woman nude – almost all of Sandberg’s figures are – seated on a hillock of daisies. As she lashes a hare to her right foot, we are left to wonder about the whole notion of what she’s up to. Obviously wanting to flee apace, as Mercury would be depicted with wings on his ankles. However, this particular mode of travel isn’t going to work out so well in practice. One is drawn to the parallel of those who wish to flee their predicament, but can’t for whatever reason. Instead, they turn to artificial means of escape, be it drugs, alcohol, self-delusion or whatever psychological vehicle that takes them away from unbearable pain and suffering. Any way it goes, the escape is, in the end, ineffectual at best.

We’ll leave you to decode the rest of the paintings, but be forewarned: just to keep you honest, Sandberg has thrown a fairly nonsensical canvas into the collection. You have to have a little humor in art from time to time. It can’t be deadly serious stuff all the time.