Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

Several art events around the D.C. area exhibit some of Washington’s finest artists, and the Corcoran adds an international touch with a captivating display of John Singer Sargent’s works.

Littoral Moments

Sargent and the Sea, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (500 17 St. NW, Washington, D.C.). The exhibit runs through Jan. 3, 2010. The gallery is open Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., with later evening hours on Thursday until 9 p.m.

Admission is $10 for adults, while seniors over the age of 62 and students are $8; Military ID holders and children 12 and under get in for free. For more information, call 202-639-1700 or see

The expatriated American painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is best known for his portraiture work. Sargent and the Sea examines his marine and seaside works from early on in his career.

The 80-some drawings and paintings shown were done in England, France and Italy from 1874 to 1879, when he was 18 to 23 years old. The staggering quality of work on hand becomes rather precocious when one considers that we’re taking about the work of a college-aged kid.

Sargent’s style is solidly in the realist realm, but often comes with Impressionist flavorings. Some of the study sketches seem a bit too literal for modern tastes awash in photography, but were nit picking at that.

Be that as it may, Sargent is repeatedly showing us rock solid drawing and painting skills.

While drawing is often viewed as a lesser art form than painting, it is, in fact, drawing that really separates the good from the great.

A painting gone wrong can be endlessly reworked until it’s done right. A drawing, however, is typically irrevocable. A drawn line laid down leaves its mark no matter how much erasing you do. Fortunately, we get to see many examples of both Sargent’s paintings and drawings here.

The rotunda leading into the Sargent in the Sea houses a wonderful selection of Sargent’s work from the Corcoran’s permanent collections (on view through Mach 21, 2010).

Among the works in the Corcoran’s collection is the masterful sketch “Gondolier, Venice.” Here we see a deftly laid whipsaw line across the Gondolier’s back with varied line weight. It sounds insane, but it’s truly worth the trip just to see that one line.

This cat could draw – draw with a capital D.

Over and over again through both exhibits, we see Sargent’s zig-zagging compositions that often border on the abstract, but always lead the viewer’s eye deeper and deeper into the picture field. The repeated diagonal compositional vectoring leads the viewer to explore the entire canvas edge to edge along the way – all done for visual interest and dramatic effect.

“Atlantic Storm” is just one such painting. Here we stand on the pitching deck of a ship with seemingly impossible multiple walls of water threatening to pound her deck.

All in all, these are surprisingly dynamic works for someone who would ultimately be known for portraiture.

Sargent also had a penchant for punchy graphic contrast and an almost, but not quite lurid, sense of color saturation and intensity.

Today, we would most closely associate the look with color photographs shot with a polarizing filter: Eye candy. If your eyes had salivary glands, they’d be drooling over many of Sargent’s blue skies, such as the one in the Simplon Pass.

You’ll have to hurry to catch Sargent and the Sea before it closes, but it’s well worth the effort. Maybe tie it in with a trip to see the National Christmas tree soon to be on display across the street.


D.C. on Display

The Gateway Arts District, in the Mount Rainier to Hyattsville, Md. area, is holding its semi-annual open house event this Saturday, Dec. 12.

With all the art venues open at one time, it’s the perfect opportunity to check out what is fast becoming one of Washington’s key art enclaves.

The area is most noted for its collection of glass- and clay-based artists who have taken those traditionally craft-related materials and brought them into the fine art world.

Virtually all of the artists in the Otis St. warehouse complex are well-known on a regional level. Tim Tate and Michael Janis of the Washington Glass School are both coming off significant successes at Chicago’s SOFA show and Miami Basel.

Tate is starting to get a decent footing on the international level, and is arguably the best known D.C. artist of this generation. Which is not to slight the rest of the pack here.

If you added up all the significant regional shows these folks have been in, it would likely be well over a thousand. When/if the D.C. arts region gets back on the national map again, it’s likely to happen here first. At this rate, you may not have to wait long to see that happen.

Hours are somewhat varied this time around: Washington Glass School will be open 2 – 6 p.m.; Red Dirt Studio, noon – 5 p.m.; Flux studios, 11 a.m. –  4 p.m. All the studios are located in the Otis Street Complex (the 3700 block for map search purposes). The most reliable phone number here is probably the Washington Glass School at 202-744-8222.

The gallery space in the old Lustine Chevrolet showroom building at 5710 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, Md. has a variety of activities planned for the day from 11 a.m. –  6 p.m.

Of special note: Intellectual Property attorney John Mason, of, will be giving a talk at 1 p.m.

Grab an event map, and go studio/gallery hopping throughout the area.


The Northern Virginia Art Beat is compiled by Kevin Mellema. To e-mail submissions, e-mail them to