Friday, October 19, 2007

Ian Whitmore at G Fine Art

by Lauren Rice

Last spring, I entered unannounced into G Fine Art and requested a private viewing of paintings by Ian Whitmore. I remember being disappointed that I was only able to see a few small paintings. I also recall being dissatisfied with the (dare I say) quality of Whitmore’s work in person after being impressed by several reproductions online. I am happy to say that I was able to attend an opening of Whitmore’s current solo show Honi soit qui mal y pense at G Fine Art in September. This not only gave me to opportunity to drink some wine while reviewing the works, but also to see a greater number of Whitmore’s paintings.
Although people watching at the crowded opening was almost as intriguing (and as disparate!) as the paintings on view, I was able to squeeze my way through the crowd to see the show. One painting caught my eye immediately--Chase, a rainbowy oil on canvas. This work was perhaps the most similar in style to the older work that I had seen online because it combined gestural abstraction with hidden figurative elements. However it was of even greater interest to me than his previous work. Despite the painting’s obvious Cecily Brown influence, it was much cleverer than Whitmore’s older work. Again, I must refer to my review last semester where I wondered if Whitmore was challenging his own capabilities as an artist. This sneaky painting made me feel as though he was starting to. Although the painting utilizes trendy saccharine colors (and I was not clear to what end), I felt that the artist had spent time on this work. It gave me hope for young Mr. Whitmore.
Another painting I liked, Unharboring, is a centripetal blob of brown painty marks on a delicately patterned pink background. Whitmore’s use of pattern here was surprising to me; I had not seen it before in his work. I must wonder if Whitmore is succumbing to the present pattern trend, or if he is sincerely interested in the relationship between the decorative and “Fine Art.” Is he jumping on or criticizing this trend?
What is of most interest to me is how Whitmore manages to exhibit typically contradictory styles of painting. Whitmore’s series entitled Manomania Portraits depicts figures from the current governing party and are completely figurative. How does he ride this line, I wonder? As one who has once been accused of making “group shows,” I can only guess. It is clear that all the works on view,be they figurative or abstract, were made by the same (purposefully sloppy) hand, although the relationship between them is suspect. It’s strange; I am both impressed and concerned by ever-changing Whitmore’s stylistic tactics.
Regardless of my suspicions, I like Whitmore’s paintings. They are easy to like. Maybe too easy?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Edward Hopper at The National Gallery of Art


Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was a rather prolific painter and draftsmen. The exhibition of Hopper’s life’s works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. unfolds with a series of etchings completed during the early years of the artist’s career. Hopper, who is primarily regarded as an oil painter and watercolorist, was actually a rather inclined printmaker.
The artist turned to etching around 1915 after returning to New York from several excursions in Europe where he became heavily influenced by the prints of Rembrandt and Goya. Etching proved economical and Hopper (who worked as a commercial illustrator) sought refuge in the medium. Prints such as “East Side Interior” 1922, and “Evening Wind” 1921 demonstrate the artist’s capability in successfully depicting light and shadow. In both etchings, the female is nude, her face obscured from view. “Night on the El Train” 1921 is a less successful print, but a far more successful narrative. An elusive couple converses quietly and covertly with each other, coupling in the deepest corner of the night train. For the first time one tries (though in vain) to conjure a narrative in an attempt to absolve the thick sexual tension present in the etching. In prints such as “Night Shadows” done during the same year, one is not nearly as concerned with the figures as they are the architecture.
Hopper’s paintings prior to his prints are far less successful than those created from the mid 1920s on. An example from 1908 is an oil painting titled “Railroad Train.” The painting is rather monochromatic, lacking contrast and value. It is thickly painted- an earnest attempt at oil, but poorly executed and “muddy.” His interest in technology and the landscape is however apparent at a rather early point in the artist’s career. The successful jump from drawing to painting was made through the vehicle of watercolor. The medium provided the perfect synthesis of drawing and painting. At last Hopper was able to refine his hand while training his eye to distinguish color and tone.
Hopper’s watercolors are some of the best I have seen. They are crisp and clean with a strong sense of clarity. Light and shadow dominate the paintings, though color is certainly not ignored. The color Hopper uses in his watercolor landscapes and depictions of architecture is rather true to life and limited in regard to the palette. It is far less indulged than the hearty jewel tones present in the artist’s mature work. In works such as ‘Houses of Squam Light, Gloucester” 1923 and “Light, Two Lights” 1927, the figures are absent and the architecture dominates. Hopper’s preoccupation with technology and construction in the landscape is prevalent in his watercolors as well as his oil paintings. Though Hopper maintained similar interests throughout his career, he never stopped learning or allowing the learning process to show though in his work. It is clear that his etchings influenced his watercolors (a medium that lends itself to drawing) and even more obvious that his watercolors strongly influenced his oil paintings which had previously faltered.
Instead of painting everything thickly and clumsily as in “Railroad Train” Hopper began using the canvas as a tool, much like the paper is used in watercolor. “Sunday” 1926 illustrates the artist’s new handling of the medium. Hopper uses his knife (or rag) to scrape the paint away from the surface of the painting where shadows lie and build impasto in areas of interest. The canvas bleeds through the dark windows of the storefront, illuminating them with “sunlight.” The figure is built with thicker, impasto paint. Once clumsy and unasserted, the artist now claims his tool and uses it to successfully build an environment while guiding the eye throughout the composition.
The mature work of the artist, including some of his most famous paintings “NightHawks”1942 and “Chop Suey” 1929 is more concerned with narrative and thematic interpretations. The theme “isolation” is prevalent throughout. The two women present in “Chop Suey” hardly converse or even look at one another, though they are positioned with such inclination. Sitting across from one another in a Chinese restaurant, the women appear isolated, the environment quiet and still (a far cry from the busy streets of New York). The paint in “NightHawks” is more successful than in previous works. The acidic yellow fluorescent light pervades the human forms who seem more like mannequins in a store front window than patrons at a diner. The glass window bends effortlessly around a city corner fusing the city streets and the restaurant interior seamlessly.
One finds themselves again searching for narrative in “Office at Night” 1940. The female secretary looks over her shoulder at the office manager reading over documents. The woman’s dress is fitted, showcasing her curvaceous form. The allusion of sexuality is also apparent in “Summertime” 1943 where a blonde haired woman wearing a sheer white dress stands at the base of a stoop. Seemingly innocuous at first glance, the sexualizing of women is rendered all the more insidious. Whether Hopper was commenting on societal structures, I do not know. It is evident however, that he was at least toying with the idea.
Though narrative is prevent in Hopper’s mature work, it is the palette I found most interesting. What makes his paintings so clear and decisive is the use of a very limited palette. I found that in any given painting, on average the artist used three or fewer colors. They were quite identifiable and hardly varied from their original form. “Morning Sun”1963 is Viridian, Ochre and Cadmium Red. “Sun in an Empty Room” from the same year is simply viridian and ochre. In his most successful paintings, Hopper uses at most four color choices. This was a logical and economical decision on behalf of the artist. Hopper’s use of a limited palette stems from his background as a draftsman whose only color choices were the black of the ink and the white of paper. It seems that when the artist employs the use of too many colors in his paintings they lose the quietness and stillness that has rendered them iconic. It is the decisive manner in which Hopper decides to depict form that is so ingenious and well thought. Hopper’s paintings and etchings have long been regarded as enigmatic, elusive, and covert. Narrative and theme are only alluded at. Perhaps what makes Hopper’s work so dynamic is not the theme or the narrative. Perhaps it’s just the paint.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Nathan Baker at Randall Scott Gallery


Nathan Baker’s “Rupture” offers a view of small breakdowns presented on a large scale. Upon entrance, the spectator is faced with images that are devoid of humans, but not of human activity. The latter is revealed through the wounds inflicted on the otherwise peaceful environment: we see a living-room set with an island of ash and cigarette butts on a nicely groomed carpet, a flipped over bottle of Pepto-Bismol spilling its phosphorous contents onto a shiny white bathtub and sink, a gallon of ice cream mess on a kitchen floor. These everyday disasters are “nothing to write home about.” They are too mundane to evoke sympathy when they happen to others. Yet, these petty accidents can be utterly infuriating when they happen to us, bringing to light our own clumsiness, negligence, ineptness. The spills depicted are barely dead, in some cases the finishing drops are captured in flight. The faster we act the better are our chances to prevent the eternal damage. So off we run for that life-saving mop, or the dust buster, the paper towel, quite likely uttering the compulsory “oh, f*#%!” But why? The second set of photographs, whose composition includes the flawed human actor witnessing the harm that they caused, asks precisely that question. The people in the photographs do not move, they remain at their vantage point staring pensively onto the floating laundry detergent and the knocked over barbeque grill. The Artist Statement explains what is being shown is that fleeting moment before the speed of mind allows us to grasp urgency of the situation and gain control. But from the viewer's perspective that moment is lasting. In addition saying “calm down,” the moment’s tenure is inviting us to note the spills’ aesthetic qualities, which are accentuated by the artificially unrealistic depth of field. And yes, those silky blemishes are, in fact, beautiful. Photoshop does not lie.

Deeparture-Video by Mircea Cantor


When I heard about the video, I could only imagine a deer and wolf together in a room. What could happen? What am I setting myself up to see? All these images of death and carnage raced through my mind. Going in to the watch the video, I was already assuming the worst. But to my surprise, I saw a deer and a wolf coexisting in the room afraid of themselves, each other and what type of environment they were now in. After finishing the video, I found myself wondering which animal was more frightened: the deer, wolf, artist, or viewer. While thinking about this issue I started thinking about the artist in the space while filming the piece. His presence had to bring some tension to the space.

What Cantor does surprisingly well is the camera angles and the method in which the video was shot. The viewer is never left with the sense that the animals are alone in separate rooms. They are together interacting in ways that are accelerated by the use of video. Another thing that Cantor has done is left the video wide open for interpretation. The viewer can place whatever relationships they want on each of the animals. I am sure the artist has his own interpretation and I have my own, which no doubt differ in all degrees. This is what makes the video important: it relies on the viewer to interact, to make a judgment on the animals.

The strongest and most important factor in this work is the concept. The piece allows itself to be whatever the viewer wants it to be. One can place a complete detailed story on the wolf and deer or it can simply be a dialogue of wolf and deer. The beauty in this piece is that it is left up to the viewer to determine the relationships.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz at the Corcoran

Ansel Adams
On exhibit now through January 27, 2008

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005
On exhibit October 13, 2007-January 13, 2008


An art happening by Project 4 and The Pink Line Project

Saturday, October 13, 7:00pm - 12:00am
Music by eightyeight
Sunday, October 14, 12:00pm - 5:00pm
Champagne, mimosas and music by Yoko K. (Aphrodizia)

Lee Jensen Brake Shop : 1333 14th Street NW Washington DC 20005
$10 suggested donation at door to benefit The Pink Line Project's emerging artist grant program.

Featuring the work of:
Steven M. Cummings, Daniel Davidson, Drew Ernst, Kate Hardy, Ju$t Another Rich Kid, Geoffrey Mann, Gregory McLellan, Ted Noten, Cory Oberndorfer, Painted Lady Performance Project, Chris Tousimis, Rene Trevino, Trevor Young

Project 4 and The Pink Line Project present LUSTER an evening of decadence to benefit emerging art and music in Washington DC. The event will feature cocktails, live music, and an art exhibition that explores ideas of luxury and excess amid the debris of an abandoned brake shop.

The questioning of high-end retail and luxury goods has become a strong current in contemporary art and culture, specifically focusing on the obsession with consumption and luxury in America. The artists featured here incite this contemplation, using the tools of commercialism and the allure of gold to appeal to your desires as a consumer.

At a time when it is more important than ever to support and promote a creative culture in Washington, this collaboration expands the reach of contemporary art by redefining the notion of what is art. We believe that everyone's life can be enriched and transformed by the arts and we intend to set the gold standard for raising awareness about contemporary art.

Project 4 is a new voice in the growing Washington D.C. art scene. The gallery's programming promotes an international, forward-thinking exhibition schedule of contemporary art and design. Focusing on one-person shows and thematic exhibitions by mid-career and emerging artists, the gallery also invites guest curators to host exhibitions emphasizing trends in contemporary art and design. It is, in effect, a room for art and ideas spanning a range of cultural issues.

The Pink Line Project supports outstanding artists who contribute to excellence in the arts in Washington, DC. Founded by Philippa P.B. Hughes, The Pink Line Project fosters intellectual and artistic innovation through programs and events that are fueled by the transformative power of art.



Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jiha Moon: Line Tripping at Curator’s Office


Upon entering Curator’s Office, I was immediately captivated by Jiha Moon’s “Flourish Wind.” First, I moved in close to study the artist’s techniques- I wanted to determine places in the image where acrylic paint and ink were allowed to behave according to their nature (dripping and pooling), and I also searched to pinpoint how the artist transitioned from this treatment of material into more rendered and drawn imagery. These kinds of distinctions are difficult to make via digital imagery and online images really do not do Moon’s work justice. After I looked closely, I moved back to take in the whole composition. Only a few minutes later, I found myself moving in again for more detailed observation. I interacted similarly with each of the images presented in the exhibition.

It seemed to me that Moon’s process began very loosely, with a series of washes and gestural marks. From looking at the work, it appeared that she might continue to react to the “atmosphere” implied by these materials, refining with tighter, more specific forms existing in/as the foreground of the work. Curator John Ravenal’s comprehensive essay accompanying the show supported my assumptions about the artist’s process.

Moon’s work is sensuous, emotive, and elegant. The forms and atmospheres she creates exist in a world I don’t quite understand. There are things in this world that I recognize- hints of trees, clouds, billowing fabric, waves, and these things even seem to (at times) operate according to natural laws such as gravity; however, there is a swirling energy in each of the works that creates a sense of perpetual unrest.

Perhaps this is a natural state for work embodying so many dichotomies. Ravenal writes:

Jiha Moon’s work is often discussed in terms of opposites brought together in a
single image: East and West, tradition and innovation, representation and
abstraction, spontaneity and control… Her work teems with the results of
productive tension between contrasting forces, and she herself describes her
experience of moving between diverse cultures- Korea and the United States,
small town and city, the North and the South- as a primary influence on her

Perpetual unrest is not an unpleasant experience in Jiha Moon’s work. As I moved back and forth to study the parts and then the whole of Moon’s efforts, I noticed moments of stillness in the images’ details, evidence of yet another balancing act on the part of the artist. I believe it is these opposites (or perhaps complements) contained successfully within Moon’s work that make the images so ultimately satisfying.