Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

Prized Arts

Bethesda Painting Awards 2009, at the Fraser Gallery (7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda, Md.).

Prized Arts


Bethesda Painting Awards 2009, at the Fraser Gallery (7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda, Md.). The exhibit runs through July 4. The gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. For more details, call 301-718-9651, or visit

The Fraser Gallery is currently showing work by the eight finalists in the fifth-annual Bethesda Painting Awards. This is one of two annual art shows sponsored by Carol Trawick, each carrying a $14,000 prize package. Needless to say, it draws its share of entrants every year.

This year’s show of eight was winnowed down from over 200 artists in the D.C. Metro area.

Camilo Sanin, current MFA candidate at the Maryland Institute College of Art, won the prestigious $10,000 first-place award. Sanin’s work is unquestionably heavily influenced by the Washington Color School artist, Gene Davis. When you get this close to a historically-significant A-list artist, you wind up opening a real can of worms. Immediately, you are compared to the pre-existing work, and judged accordingly – usually less than favorably. Gene Davis’s stripe paintings are lumped in with the Washington Color School, but they also have one foot in the Op Art movement. And movement they have, in abundance.

Gene Davis had such a way with color that his canvases, composed of nothing but solid color stripes, were so chromatically active that they make you go cross-eyed and wobbly trying to look at many of them. The large ones often vibrate so much it seems as if the whole wall is breathing. They can be extremely difficult things to look at for any length of time.

So what to make of Sanin’s colored-stripe paintings? They don’t move so much you want to grab a chair back so you don’t fall down. Does that make them better than Davis’ canvases, or does that make them poor imitations? Fielder’s choice: you’ll have to decide that question for yourself. Either way, they are very well done.

Reston artist Heidi Fowler got the $2,000 second prize. Fowler was a finalist here two years ago. We’ve reviewed her work here several times before in her shows at the Greater Reston Arts Center and the Arlington Arts Center. These canvases continue her series of images depicting public spaces, often painted on top of a layer of junk mail, and embedded with religious quotations. These paintings seem to embrace a more abstract quality than prior works.

Her painting of silhouetted telephone pole and wires is an especially nice geometric exercise. Another painting of a railroad crossing with over head stop lights coming from opposite sides of the image outside the viewing field, and terminating off center is also a nice composition.

One of the most fascinating artists here is Steven Adams. Adams works with layered paints sanded to a glass smooth surface revealing the various colored layers of paint. The funny part of this is the way such a seemingly innovative approach to abstract painting is now done by three local artists.

Gregory McLellan works the same notion in a decidedly graffiti-esque fashion. Ryan Carr Johnson works the same idea in hot acidic colors that result in pieces that look like a cross between aerial photos of Christo’s wrapped islands, and color infrared photography.

As often as not, they’re luscious eye candy. Steven Adams takes the whole ball of wax, adds a baked, reticulated (cracked) paint twist and spits it out as a quiet mature and highly-contemplative style that harbors a natural organic visual feel. It’s reminiscent of leaf imprints, complete with veins and surface texture.

All three artists sand their images to a glass-smooth surface. It’s a prime example of what makes human creativity so fascinating. It would be interesting to see the three of them exhibit their works together in one show.

Crafty Media

Creative Craft’s Council 27th Biennial Exhibition, plus Henry Allen’s Faces. The exhibition lasts through July 11, and “Faces” through June 30. Both exhibits are held at the Mansion at Strathmore (10701 Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Ave., North Bethesda, Md.). The mansion is open Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Wednesday, open late until 9 p.m. and on Saturday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. For more details, call 301-581-5109, or visit Note: call for July 3-4 schedule and possible closings.

The Creative Craft Council Biennial show is a compilation of nine different craft organizations coming together for this show. Approximately 185 works are on view in wood, metals, clay, enamel, fiber, glass, polymers and mixed media. This is a major show for these groups, and everything here is done to a high degree of finish and craft. Overall, the textiles and polymers are of an especially high quality.

The designer in me finds craft shows of this sort a tad perplexing. One object seems lovely and useful. The next takes the form of a utilitarian object, which after much time and effort, the artistic process renders thoroughly useless. Sometimes it’s a tad mind-warping, but it’s all entertaining.

Former Washington Post Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Henry Allen shows 37 of his mostly colored pencil drawings of faces.

It’s fairly rare to see critics art work on display like this. Allen found his own creative path in retirement, applying years of visual artistic experience. Not surprisingly, he’s become a master of the fine art of not drawing. Drop-outs allow the mind to fill in the missing bits, all the while drawing laser-like focus to the pertinent points of interest. It’s a powerful technique that, done well, is hard to beat.

Having known Allen for several years, I’m often tempted to lift some of the verbal gems he’s known for. Tempted as I may be, I keep my hand out of the cookie jar. Except for today. Today, I shamelessly quote Allen’s artist statement, “No color stays still.” If Gene Davis had Henry Allen’s way with words, he wouldn’t have had to paint all those stripes.