Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

This is one reason you show in Artomatic: The notable Fraser Gallery is showing the work of ten artists which gallery director Catriona Fraser has picked out of the great hoard showing at this year’s Artomatic.

Best in Show

Best of Artomatic, at the Fraser Gallery (7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda, Md.). The gallery is open through August 8, from Tuesday – Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. For more details, call 301-718-9651 or visit

This is one reason you show in Artomatic: The notable Fraser Gallery is showing the work of ten artists which gallery director Catriona Fraser has picked out of the great hoard showing at this year’s Artomatic. Absent from last year’s calendar, it’s good to see Fraser putting this one back into rotation. If nothing else, it’s good for the health and hopefully growth of Artomatic, D.C.’s largest annual art show.

Seems everybody who sticks their necks out and offers up a top ten of Artomatic list has a few common names, with the rest being completely different. Which makes such lists entertaining. My favorite Artomatic work leans toward the spectacular group displays that somehow slip past the gate keepers responsible for keeping Artomatic an enormous jumble. Several years ago, when Artomatic was at the old Children’s Museum, the buzz was all about the spectacular glass room on the top floor. It was like the Renwick had invade.

Last year, the buzz was all about the professional and color unified ceramics grouping on the 10th floor. This year, the buzz was all about the Sunderland U.K. group. The Sunderland group surely had Artomatic approval and were shown on the same floor, but hardly in a cohesive unit. Though every time you leaned in to read a title tag, it had a Sunderland U.K. noted on it. Which is to say that you couldn’t stand back and tell that it was a Sunderland U.K. showing, but if you were paying attention, you got the idea as you went along. Somehow Artomatic needs to find room for this sort of group display within their free-for-all framework. It’s the groupings people remember. The passage of time renders the rest a giant blur. A mostly forgotten blur at that.

For my money, the best artist in Artomatic 2009 was Jessica Van Brakle, of Arlington, not shown here. Van Brakle’s paintings of lace, flora, and superimposed construction cranes make pointed reference to the differences between the sexes, while quietly emphasizing the commonality between men and women. Battle of the sexes becomes my-enemy-myself. It’s a simple yet complex notion that virtually no one tackles. Van Brakle does it well. She was working this same theme when we reviewed her work last August in the “All-Arlington” show at the Ellipse Gallery. It’ll be interesting to see how many other pithy notions she can bring forth in years to come, but for the time being she’s working this vein of gold quite nicely. You can see her work at

Disclaimer note: I saw everything at Artomatic, but haven’t had a chance to get over to Fraser Gallery and see how this grouping looks there. In order to give readers a chance to see the show at Fraser before it closes, we’re forging ahead here. It’s not ideal, but it’s an imperfect world. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can, and let the chips fall where they may.

Several of Catriona Fraser’s top ten picks, shown here, come from the Sunderland U.K. group mentioned above. Aside from Fraser’s British origins that may favor her opinion, the work is excellent and certainly worthy. You could put half a dozen of them in a top-ten list without giving it a second thought.

Generally speaking, the glass work was the best of the Sunderland work shown at Artomatic. Christine Keers is showing her clear and colored biomorphic glass vessels with through holes in the base. Joanne Mitchell has a mid-century biomorphic, low-pouring vessel form incised with lines that create a leaf or feather shadow (

Molly Sheldon of Burke, Va., has her untitled white female stag centaur sculpture. The piece seems to be about aggressive female sexuality. The animal’s pencil point spike feet seem to directly reference high-heeled shoes, while reinforcing the notion of sexual power. If this thing steps on you, it’s gonna hurt. The nude porcelain white human torso has the posture and poise of one in the prime of life. There is no thinking head, having been cut off mannequin-like at the neck. Supplanted on the neck stump is a pair of stag horns. You get the idea that it’s breeding time, and this girl is all business.

Jennifer Bishop shows “C-Section,”  one of two paintings she had at Artomatic dealing with the recent birth of her son. The other painting was a new born portrait. This one shows the mother strapped down in the operating room. All the gruesome details are hidden from view by the blue patient curtain. What we see is mom laid out with arms out stretched as if she’s being crucified while a gowned and masked nurse watches over her. While reverential, you can almost hear the teenage shouting matches to come; “see what I went through for you.” It’s a beautiful blue color combined with an unusual subject.

Edward Johnston brings the wonderful world of CAD-CAM stereolithography digital prototyping to the world of art. Johnson takes digital slices of cloud photos, digitally morphs them together, then gives them 3-D life by running that info into a laser-curing, resin-prototyping machine. The results are cool even if Johnson fails to dirty his fingernails in the process. All I want to know is, does he have one of these puppies in his garage, and can I come over and play? Twenty years ago, these machines turned out a fairly rough product. Now they’re so good you almost can’t tell … almost.

Torpedo Factory fiber artist Deb Jansen channels the ghost of Artomatic past with “Catharsis and Karma.” Her “he done me wrong” letter to her ex-husband’s other woman recalls the infamous “I. Hate. You.” piece by Doug Sanford shown in the Fraser Gallery’s best of Artomatic 2007 show. Doug put his ex-girlfriend’s over-the-top hate on public display; here, Deb does it herself. When love goes wrong, all you can do is stand back and watch. At the end of the day, you feel sorry for just about everybody involved in these spectacles.