City hosts three thought-provoking art exhibits

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By Jennifer Powell (Photo/Jennifer Powell)

If you are looking for an escape from the rain this month, duck into the Athenaeum, the Torpedo Factory’s Target Gallery or the Del Ray Artisans Gallery to take advantage of the limited time left to experience three examples of exceptionally crafted art showcases.

It is no accident that Alexandria has become a veritable hotbed for art and these three locations play a big part in the experience.

PAINTING

The historic Athenaeum, which recently updated its interior walls and lighting, is a beautifully clean slate for Judith Seligson’s “A Gap Frame of Mind” installation.

Based on her 20-year Gap project, Seligson’s 35 new works are arresting abstract geometric oil paintings that create tension, dimension and interest with bold color blocking and juxtaposed fragmented shapes. They have never been shown until now.

Seligson is a painter and scholar living in Alexandria and New York City. Her studio is in Old Town, close to the Athenaeum where she has been painting for 27 years. Seligson’s exhibits have been featured in galleries across the country, and The New York Times featured her paintings in a piece about the design collaboration with her husband, noted architect Allan Greenberg.

Gaps are the point of departure for Seligson’s work. “The Gap is a vast paradigm of the 20th and 21st centuries in art, literature, science, psychology and criticism,” she wrote. “It is a focus on the space between things — between fragments in a collage, between atoms or quanta in matter and light, or between fragments of a dream.”

“Just as a neurotransmitter fires across a synaptic gap between brain cells, so our minds make sense of things by filling in gaps,” she wrote.

The proof of Seligson’s skill is both in her application and the viewer’s reception. Close inspection of her panels show the incredible craftsmanship of the fragmented shapes’ edges — so straight and seamlessly painted, that they appear to have no visible overlap. The artist uses no tape to create these straight edges.

Her process starts with line. Creating the underlying drawing of light lines with a graphite pencil Seligson then begins to see what is evolving in the visual push and pull of the drawing. Those spaces then inform her choices for the color application. Most of her works are based on this interpretive approach and are not preconceived.

When examining Seligson’s paintings, her strong lines lead the eye around the panel as the mind determines what is foreground, background and space in between. The effect is akin to looking at a Mondrian painting and it turning into an Escher painting.

The exhibit space is also a reflection of the gap paradigm. Seligson’s modern works are housed within a seemingly traditional space and hung above crown molding.

Large spaces fall between the individually contained paintings in their shadowbox “cells.” Each painting is quite different from the next, as is its distilled effect. “River Magnolias” is one work that Seligson began after seeing such magnolias along the Potomac while on a walk near the airport. “Shark” is painted with sharper and smaller fragments, “Hoppered” feels like
an open door to a peaceful space, and a few paintings cleverly employ two or three panels merged together while painted fragments stretch across both pieces. One lone work, “Juxtaposed,” acts as the disrupter, created in a completely different style and medium.

SCULPTURE

Target Gallery, the contemporary exhibition space within the Torpedo Factory Art Center, is the current home to Lisa Kellner’s “Always Into Now,” an immersive site-responsive silk installation. The view from the door beckons visitors in as the silk literally envelops the ceiling and walls of the gallery.

Created by Kellner, an artist based in Maine, “Always Into Now” is largely comprised of silk organza fabrics used in a painterly process and is hand colored using raw pigments, ink, acrylic, bleach and even compost to achieve her desired palette. The lush organic surfaces are stitched and sewed to create shapes and different translucency to further cast color and shadows across the walls and floors.

The resulting effect is both an environmental sculpture and a painting in space. The artist’s intent is for the installation to act as a portal into a painting, and for viewers to feel as if they are part of the painting while in the room.

“I am interested in how that space is inhabited and what occurs when place is infused by history and memory,” Kellner wrote. “My work combines random patterns in nature with human inclination for order and symmetry. By merging these disparate components, my challenge is to distill experiential space to its very essence, and discover the unspoken place.”

A challenge for all visitors is to resist touching the work, in particular the fun blue and white pods that rest on the floor and resemble balls, bubbles, and jellyfish.

Though carefree and flowing in appearance, a close inspection and confirmation from the gallery director belies the labor intense process that Kellner goes through to create her painstakingly detailed installation.

Kellner created the installation over the course of four days, painting walls and using hundreds of pieces of silk fabric, fishing line and a hot glue gun to suspend the pieces.

Contrast and perspective were enhanced with wooden sculptural outlined boxes and horizontal and wooden vertical lines on the walls.

Commissioned as part of the Target Gallery’s New Media Invitational series, which invites artists to transform the space with a site-specific installation, “Always Into Now” does just that.

PHOTOGRAPHY

The Del Ray Artisans Gallery is no newcomer to the art scene. This month, the gallery features “Surrealism: A Photography Exhibition.” This collaborative effort presents photographic artwork that pushes beyond accepted conventions of reality by representing irrational imagery of dreams and the unconscious mind using disorienting realist imagery often based on fantasy, hallucinations and the imagination.

The exhibit was juried by members from the Union 206 Studio and Del Ray Artisans.

Best In Show was awarded to Michael Martin for “Up Creek No Paddle,” which features D.C. miniaturized, encased in a bubble and floating down a river with fish and running brook as its surroundings.

Best In Show also was awarded to John Wisor for “Transience and the Persistent,” which makes excellent use of both black-and-white and color photography.

Highlights of the exhibit include Andrew Caldwell’s display of eight highly illustrative Lisa Kellner’s Interactive silk organza exhibit “Always Into Now” at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory is a wonder to behold as the viewer becomes part of the of the painting in space merely by entering and elongated photos. “Dive” by Breanna Lamb is a sweet subtle
image that almost looks like a hazy vacation photo until you realize that the view is physically impossible unless being dropped out of a plane.

Equally fun is the creative nomenclature of the works. “Vacant Descent” by Pamela Brumbley is a downright Dali-esque image. “Bring the Camera” and “Circus of Destruction” by Dale O’Dell show that a single artist can have varied styles.

A good portion of the artists’ photographic works are rendered on canvas, which is another element of interest. “Illusion for Sale” by Andrea Foley and Rochelle Eaddy’s exceptional “Jacket Gene Flow” defy convention, and the latter appears so textural that you will swear it is a painting.

Each of these exhibits finds a way to involve the viewer in a unique way by allowing the space for the viewer’s mind to complete the work. All three locations are highly accessible and free to visit. You will walk away from these shows with an inspired creative outlook applicable to all you do.

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