Features

Inspiration and Feedback – A Shared Studio at the Union Arts Building

[From Left: Julia Bloom, Michele Montalbano, Susan Hostetler]. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

From Left: Julia Bloom, Michele Montalbano, Susan Hostetler. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

While Union Market has gone through a massive revitalization and has quickly become a hot spot, little is known about the artist studios that exist just two blocks away. Up until last fall, the building at 411 New York Avenue may have been known for housing The Warehouse Loft, but mainly by those looking for a rave party. While those days are over (see Oct. 17, 2012 article in the City Paper), the building, owned by the graphics production company General Imaging, still contains two churches and a woodworker, but is currently growing in its number of artist studios. I spoke to three of these artists, Julia Bloom, Susan Hostetler, and Michele Montalbano, who have been sharing a large space on the third floor for the last six years.
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411 New York Ave. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

411 New York Ave. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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Michele Montalbano was the first to work out of the Union Arts Building. Nine years ago, the painter/ printmaker obtained a studio space on the opposite side of the building. A self-proclaimed aspiring city girl, the Burke, VA resident says she happily makes the long trek from the suburbs four days a week, as it allows her to have the best of both worlds. Since obtaining her MFA from George Washington University in 1993, Michele has been working on a series of paintings depicting interior spaces, which “address the mobile society that we live in and the void that is created when family and friends are separated.” Using purposely simplified shapes and brush strokes juxtaposed with busy patterns and bold colors, Montalbano sets up her compositions to create views looking deeply into space, through other rooms, and into the unknown, which is suggested but not quite visible. Her paintings are represented by Gallery Plan B.
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[Michele Montalbano's Studio.] Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

Michele Montalbano’s Studio. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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In the last year, however, Montalbano has shifted her focus to printmaking, working on a body of work she refers to as “The Babel Project,” inspired by the biblical story of Babel and by illuminated manuscripts. The idea behind it is more conceptual than it initially sounds, and examines the idea of language as a metaphorical wall (a shift from the physical walls depicted in her interior paintings). She is currently looking for a venue to display the work, which will include an installation and a book.
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[New work by Michele Montalbano.] Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

New work by Michele Montalbano. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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Julia Bloom has also veered away from painting. Shortly before she began sharing space with her studio mates six years ago, Bloom shifted her focus to sculpture. Looking at both bodies of work side-by-side, however, one sees the abstract geometrical treatment of intersecting lines in both. About her sculptures, Bloom says that she is inspired by forests, nests and thickets, and despite having set out to paint them initially, it was the sculptural work made from sticks and wire that satisfied her artistic vision.
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Bloom lives and works in DC, and is a full-time artist educated at Berkeley, the Boston Museum School and the Maryland Institute. Her work is represented by Addison Ripley. In late May, Bloom will open a solo show of her sculptural work at the Greater Reston Art Center.
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Julia Bloom's Studio Space. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

Julia Bloom’s Studio Space. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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Another artist inspired by nature, Susan Hostetler came to the Union Arts Building eight years ago. A full-time teacher at Kingsbury High School by day, she mainly uses the studio on weekends and during summer breaks. Hostetler is a graduate of Western Michigan University, and refers to herself as a mixed media eco-artist. Like her studio mates, she has recently transformed her body of work. Previously focused on 2-D, she has brought in the third dimension by incorporating abstracted ceramic birds. These birds are sometimes presented as part of her bird song drawings, but other times stand on their own, having been coated with varying degrees of powdered graphite. The intention of the simplified bird form, she states, is the “honoring of a life well-lived.” Like Montalbano, Hostetler is also represented by Gallery Plan B.
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 Work by Susan Hostetler. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

Work by Susan Hostetler. Photo by Zofie Lang for East City Art.

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Montalbano, Hostetler and Bloom make a great cooperative. They met through mutual friends, but have since become good friends themselves, going out to dinners and gallery openings. Sharing studio space has enabled them to bounce off ideas, offer critiques, and generally support each other. Even Hostetler, who does not get to spend as much time in the space, feels the benefit of this, responding to impromptu calls from her studio mates, who are eager to provide feedback on work done in their absence.
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Henry Miller once said “An artist is always alone — if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness,” but perhaps that isn’t quite right. The benefits of having a space where the artist can work alongside of another can motivate both to keep going, and provides a constant opportunity for feedback; another “eye” in times of uncertainty and experimentation. In the end, all three artists have been able to grow and expand their work, explored other media and directions. They still remain individual artists with very different portfolios.
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Recently, the cooperative has begun to plan open studios, and hopes to be able to coordinate future events with Union Market. The potential of having the market nearby is vast, but so far, having a place to eat close by has been the main one. Hopefully, in the future, art enthusiasts will find their way to the Union Arts Building more frequently.
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To schedule a private studio visit, please contact the artists via their websites.

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Zofie Lang
Authored by: Zofie Lang

Born in Poland and raised in Germany, Zofie Lang came to the United States in 1998 to study psychology at UMBC in Baltimore. An unexpected 8-month-exile in Germany in the year 2000 became a calling to create art. Immediately following the completion of her bachelor’s of psychology in late 2002, she pursued an art education at Towson University, Baltimore Clayworks, and at The Art League. For five years she operated her own ceramic studio, Zofie Lang Ceramics, creating functional and sculptural work. She also studied interior design at MICA and exhibition design at The Corcoran, and spent six years working in the interior design field. Since 2012 she is once again active in the visual art realm, creating mixed media work based on psychological undercurrents in fairy tales and superstitions. She is also teaching a class at Sitar Arts Center on Narrative Collage, and is a co-founder of Catalyst Projects, a new arts venture with a mission to present the DC arts community to the world beyond the DMV.