Denise Marie Brown is a busy woman this week. As president of the Hyattsville Community Arts Alliance, she has a key role in spearheading artist participation in this Saturday’s Downtown Hyattsville Arts Festival. This year the HCAA will have two exhibitions open during the event in venues directly adjacent to the fair, as well as artists along Jefferson Street (the fair’s epicenter). With all that art to organize, Ms. Brown was not easy to pin down. I agreed to put on walking shoes and as we travelled between concurrent installations she filled me in on what visitors will see this weekend.
My first stop was Franklin’s Brewery, which has been hosting HCAA exhibitions since 1995. I found Brown in the midst of a dozen artists and assistants, all busy hanging works throughout the space. In between directing artists to their assigned walls, she filled me in on the group’s history. Founded in 1994, the HCAA currently has over 60 member artists and works with local venues in and around the city of Hyattsville to both showcase members’ work and provide educational workshops for the community. The HCAA has a long history of arts promotion in Prince George’s county, including helping to designate the Gateway Arts and Entertainment District in 1999. Members come together not only for exhibitions, but also for regular events such as art critiques and sketching seminars.
What immediately struck me was the feeling that this was definitely a community activity. While Brown might be the conductor, generally directing the arrangement of pieces, it was clear that the artists’ themselves were in charge of the details. The title of the exhibition is Correspondence, and Brown explained to me that the theme for this particular show was to examine modes of communication (both verbal and nonverbal). Some pieces did so literally, such as Roxanne Ando’s Wisteria, which incorporates Chinese calligraphy with watercolors. Other pieces did so in a more oblique manner. One of the most successful in this regard is The Dance by Marie Crow. The Dance is a triptych hung vertically and in an unusual twist, the three canvases are offset, one cantilevered over the other in an effort to heighten the sense of movement depicted in the scene. Crow explains the abstraction of the piece allows her the freedom to interpret the emotions behind the dancers’ movements. Both artists are fairly new to HCAA, and each commented to me that the grassroots nature of the group has encouraged them to be more active in showing their art to the community.
With the last wall label in place, we caravaned up Baltimore Avenue to install the next exhibition, October’s Promise at the Calvert House Inn, another long-time sponsor of HCAA’s exhibitions. As exhibition spaces, the two venues are vastly different. Whereas Franklin’s is a wide, airy two-story loft space with walls of windows, the narrow room at Calvert House features wainscoting and heavy oak beams running along the ceiling. Unlike Correspondence down the avenue, October’s Promise has no overarching theme per se. Here works were chosen for their use of bold, fall colors (think of tints of orange and umber) and create a rather interesting melange of subject matter (from austere still lifes to vivacious riffs on Cubism) juxtaposed on the room’s walls. The space is not ideal for an art display, but once all the works were hung, I was struck by how well the colors of the works played off the dark woods of the room.
Two artists’ work stood out for me in this gallery. Jan Garland’s I Said I Would Quit speaks to “the difficulty of keeping a promise once made.” While I found the piece cheerier than the title and theme would suggest, I was taken aback when I learned the piece was constructed of tissue paper rather than paint. It turns out that what appear to be painted shadows and texture are in reality overlapping papers of slightly different hues. It’s interesting to see a material more commonly used in abstracts (think Alexander Calder) put to such effective use in portraiture. Also noteworthy were Joe Roger’s Of the Heart and Composition in Blue. With a nod to Picasso, both pieces created a whimsical counterpoint to the various still lifes with which they shared wall space.
Both exhibits (as well as a third show at the Prince George’s Plaza Community Center) run through November 17, 2012 and will be open for viewing during the Hyattsville Arts Festival on Saturday, September 22. In addition, several individual HCAA members will be showing their work in booths at the main festival site along Jefferson Street in downtown Hyattsville. For a full line-up of activities, visit the festival’s website here.