Thursday, March 03, 2005

Gossage on the Cover

Denise Wolff points out that the current issue of Photo-Eye, in addition to her superb interview with Chan Chao, also features a cover by DC area photographer John Gossage, and there's a nice "About the Cover" piece by Jim Stone here.

It discusses Gossage's new book Berlin in the Time of the Wall.

The Thursday Reviews

The WCP's Louis Jacobson reviews our current Mary Lang show in Georgetown and makes some excellent points on Lang's tranquil photography.

Over at the Gazette, Dr. Claudia Rousseau delivers a superb review of Metro Clay at the Rockville Arts Place, and lauds Margaret Boozer, whose show at Strand on Volta last year was one of my Top Ten Shows of the Year. Dr. Rousseau writes:

Among the 57 pieces by 13 artists who live and work in the metro area (hence the exhibit title "Metro Clay"), Boozer's work is probably the most dynamic. "Out of the Fire" is set into a large wooden box frame hanging on the central wall of the gallery, its dark brown color easily dominating the space. The piece is part of a larger series of clay wall works entitled "Land/Marks." These show the results of a working process that deals as directly as possible with the medium's essential nature. Boozer begins by spreading mounds of clay on the floor, then stomping, tearing, carving and otherwise pounding it. Buckets of slip are then splashed onto the broken surface. Thus set into motion, the natural processes inherent in clay take over. As the medium dries, it warps and cracks, taking on the appearance of earth as geologic material.

It is a fascinating idea, with unforeseeable outcomes. When the artist moves these pieces from the floor to the wall, they project the process they record, emphasizing the idea of the persistence of the earth and a sense of memory. There is, as Boozer herself has said, a visceral appeal to these works, connecting directly to the viewer's own identification with clay as earth.

For the exhibit, Boozer has launched another of these works in the gallery space. "In Process Porcelain Landscape" is a thick slab of creamy white porcelain clay, carved and manipulated, and set on a low base. Over it, the artist has poured slip of the same medium that collects in a pool on top and drips onto the floor. It is cool and moist to the touch at this writing, but by the end of the exhibit, will have changed into a craggy moonscape of dried clay.
Over at the WaPo, Jessica Dawson has an excellent review of Mexican Report at the Cultural Institute of Mexico. Miss Dawson prefers the video artists, but also makes an excellent point on the issue of the adjective "Mexican." This is sort of the same arguement that I have been making for years now about art and ethnicity, specifically the so-called "Hispanic" ethnicity, which I submit is a cultural and not an ethnic or racial term.

In her penultimate paragraph, it's apparent that Dawson has missed the memo that painting is hot again when she slams the "predominantly retrograde cache of paintings and drawings [that] hangs at Meridian International Center" and states that their the "predictable and anachronistic work that results is particularly forgettable."

Overall an excellent review of a show that I still have to go see and is in my "must see" list.

Bravo Dawson!

By the way, tonight The Cultural Institute of Mexico will hold a roundtable discussion on trends in contemporary Mexican art starting at 6:30. Participants include exhibition curator Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros, art critic Anthony Harvey, Hirshhorn programs manager Milena Kalinovska and Curator's Office director Andrea Pollan. The Cultural Institute of Mexico is at 2829 16th St. NW, in DC. I wish I could make it tonight, but I have karate class on Thursdays!

bethesda painting awards

The deadline for the inaugural Bethesda Painting Awards is rapidly approaching, and painters from the DC, Maryland and Virginia region have until Friday, March 11, 2005 to submit their applications. With $14,000 in cash prizes, this is one of the largest painting awards in the country, thanks to the incredible generosity of Ms. Carol Trawick, who also sponsors The Trawick Prize (that deadline is April 8, 2005).

Once the jurors have selected the finalists, we will exhibit them in our Bethesda gallery, where the final four will be awarded $14,000 in cash prizes based on the actual work. $10,000 will be awarded to the top prize winner, $2,000 to the second place winner, $1,000 to the third place winner. Additionally, a "Young Artist" award of $1,000 (artists born after March 11, 1975) will also be given.

Elsie Hull at Spectrum

By John Anderson

M Street in Georgetown is a noisy place, bustling, and energetic. There are many bars and boutiques to duck into, if one wants to escape the hysteria. Another choice is Spectrum Gallery, around the corner on 29th street, where a very quiet exhibition of photographs by Elsie Hull are currently on display. The space is small and serene, and perhaps the perfect setting for these black and white images.

"Photography has always been my first love," Hull declares enthusiastically. Trained as a painter at the Corcoran, where she earned her BFA, Hull did not fully engage photography until beginning her MFA in film and video production at American University. "I took a photography class at the Corcoran, but I thought it was too easy... I didn’t fully engage it then," she admitted.

The body of work is easy on the eyes and inviting. The title of the show, Portals, lends nicely to the imagery. Each image appears as a window into another environment, partially from the quiet activity within each image, and also through the physicality imposed by the camera. Hull uses a Holga camera, a simple, inexpensive, medium format camera sometimes used by schools to introduce photography to students. The final image is circular, something uncommon with most forms of photography. "You never know what you are going to get; you might end up with double exposures or artifacts."

Through constant use, Hull’s familiarity with how the camera functioned gave her an educated guess as to the final product, but the lack of total control has kept the process fun for her.

But there is a dichotomy found within her process. Hull approaches her subject from behind digital cameras and Hasselblad medium format cameras. All three cameras share the same generic wide angle lens, impulsively purchased from a New York photo store. Through careful dissection of several Holga cameras, Hull was able to find a way to attach the lens to that camera, and eventually to all the cameras she uses in her work. All her images are later scanned into a digital format and manipulated in Photoshop. "I use very basic Photoshop stuff, dark room techniques. Photoshop allows you to be very specific whereas a darkroom doesn’t unless you are doing large prints." Beyond that, Hull prefers not to do any further manipulation beyond canceling out the black "vignette-ing" that occurs through the process of exposing medium format film.

Because the final image is circular, Hull has addressed each image with a unique presentation. Mounted on matte-board and Velcroed to multiple, small, primed canvases, Hull is able to arrange the framing of each piece in such an articulate manner that it neither distracts from the image nor questions specifically what is the correct way to frame a circular photograph; it is simply interesting.

work by Elsie HullThe supports alternate, sometimes depending on the subject of the photograph, sometimes related to a series of pieces. One wall possesses a rhythm of large and small support compositions that pull the viewer along the wall to examine each piece. Some arrangements address specific aspects of the form within the photograph. In the corner a man dives off a cliff into a pool below. In free fall, his body is erect, his arms hang casually against his sides, and his toes point straight outward. The canvases intend to enhance the verticality of the male subject, alluding to his descent into the water below. In one instance the support is a bit cliché, a cruciform supporting an image of a cemetery. "I don’t see a problem with that. Photographs of cemeteries are sort of cliché too." Such a comment suggests the artist willfully intended a bit of subtle wit.

photo by HullThe images Hull has chosen for her show are elegant, ranging from somber landscapes to playful images of children and dogs playing. Her body of work has been influenced by the work of French photographer Henri Lartigue (1894-1986), who spent his career photographing friends and family. "They’re full of life and exuberant," Hull adds.

Having studied some of his photographs through her painting earlier in her career, Hull draws similar influence through subject matter - capturing places she has been and images of friends. They are sensitive, not sentimental. They possess a sense of place that defies a sense of time. As a body of work, they allude to a sensation, a common story without beginning or end that all can relate to. "I don’t necessarily have a specific story in mind when I’m putting together a show; it’s more of an intuitive response to indicate a mood."

Elsie Hull’s Portals is on display through March 13, 2005 at Spectrum Gallery, 1132 29th Street NW. The gallery is open Tuesday–Saturday 12-6, Sunday 12-5.