After a three year hiatus, Artomatic—the feisty, no holds barred extravaganza of all things artistic—has returned to breathe new life into a nondescript corporate office building. This year’s iteration returns to the eastern side of the Potomac River, landing in a suburban Maryland office park just steps away from the New Carrollton Metro station. Working alongside the Artomatic staff to bring the event to fruition is The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The Commission’s Department of Parks and Recreation owns the 90,000 square-foot building and will be renovating the space for its new use after the event. Until then, the empty building’s private offices, conference suites, hallways and even breakroom kitchenettes are overrun with art of all stripes.
If you have been to past Artomatic events, you have an idea of what to expect. If you haven’t—be ready for a visual assault! The open call brings hundreds of artists from around the region, who fill up every square inch of wall space (and often the floor) with works that run the gamut from (mostly) amateurish to (occasionally) sublime—sometimes side by side. While this year was no exception, it did seem to be smaller than in years past; perhaps the relatively last-minute open call contributed to this phenomenon. The absence of regionally-known artists such as Tim Tate and Michael Janis, along with a dearth of emerging artists such as Jessica van Brakle or Jeff Herrity means that works of critical acclaim are fewer and farther between. That said, the full-on spectacle of Artomatic is virtually unmatched by any other arts event in DC, and you’re sure to find artists whose work you would want gracing your living room walls.
Here are ten of our top picks this year:
Maryland-based Ellen Cornett is well known for her pastel works that riff off childrens’ fairy tales. She is back at Artomatic with a selection of intriguing new works using charcoal. While the themes shown are similar to past work, stripping color from the images highlights her mastery in executing works of graphite and charcoal on paper. Blackbird in particular shows off those considerable skills.
Like Cornett, Rania Hassan also has something of a trademark form—an amalgamation of delicate fiber connected to small oil paintings of hands—creating works that speak to themes of domesticity. With Tangle, Hassan builds upon her earlier work, injecting notions of intimacy and seduction with her presentation of pink lips and puckered mouths. It’s nice to see her artistic designs expand with this intriguing departure from her earlier work.
The tone of Peter McClintock’s paintings is certainly less bombastic than much of the works on surrounding walls, but their unique plays on perspective pull you in nonetheless. McClintock’s works are daydreams of summer afternoons, staring out the window with an iced tea in hand. Realistic radiators and wainscoting below juxtaposed with abstract, wide-open spaces above transport the viewer to an earlier time and space when life seemed simpler and more closely intertwined with nature. While the landscape genre is certainly a common form (perhaps over displayed at Artomatic), McClintock’s unique perspective feels fresh and invigorating.
At Artomatic 2015, self-taught screen-print artist Joseph Merchinksy is presenting a variety of images whose political messages are just as important as the visual content. Most successful are the three Ethnic Slur silkscreens which from afar resemble jelly-bean encrusted skateboards. Embedded in the pop-inspired works (ala color blindness tests) are “improper” words coded to incite hatred. The works could have easily become overbearing, but Merchinsky’s deftness steers the works away from triteness, while simultaneously reminding us that racism can sometimes be cloaked in platitudes.
Used cardboard is not the most high-brow of art materials, but seems to suit Christian Tribastone’s aesthetic just fine. His work Andrews St and N Clinton, featuring a mix of ink and acrylic, functions as both layered map and evolutionary timeline of a neighborhood; the recycled cardboard abets this effect. Viewers could read comments on gentrification into the work (certainly a hot topic in some District neighborhoods), but the work is more nuanced than that one-sided view portrays. Tribastone takes no apparent side in this debate, finding architectural beauty in both the old and the new.
You’ll hear Christopher Baine’s work long before you see it. Strolling down an office hallway filled with rather prosaic wall-mounted art, you hear the sound of crickets, wind chimes and a slight breeze begging the question: did someone leave a window open? Enter his assigned room and you see that small audio speakers standing in for wind chimes with fairy lights for warmth and a wooden rocking chair to ease your weary bones. A self-described sound artist and composer, Baine is interested in how, in an increasingly frenetic digital world, electronics themselves can be harnessed to showcase the natural world. Digital Nostalgia: Windchimes II is elegantly simple and intoxicating at the same time.
Painters utilizing various degrees of abstraction (and displaying various levels of skill) abound at this year’s Artomatic. Ross Brown rises to the top with his ability to imbue merely suggested vignettes with intense emotions. While the six works in his Time Passage series each suggest fairly mundane moments (waiting for the office clock to strike five; waiting for the traffic light to change), his muted color palette and soft brush strokes create a certain weariness bordering on isolation. Happy these works are not, but as character studies of modern life they excel.
While Dada was revolutionary at its inception, it is a genre that can certainly feel gimmicky to contemporary eyes. Pierre Davis shows that there are still fresh approaches to explore even in the 21st century. Davis’s deceptively simple Shower Inspired Sculpture elegantly combines industrial objects with hand worked materials to create a work that is more sculpture than a simple ready-made article. Yes, the pipe may be off the shelf, but the artist’s touch is clearly evident in both the molding and varnishing of the wood element and the moment where manmade and natural materials coalesce. The burst of color on the floor is an impish impulse, reminding us that art doesn’t need to take itself seriously to make a profound statement.
In a show fairly benign in its politics, Anthony D’Amico’s room sized installation-cum-chapel is notable for its intentional provocation of religion; the fact that the display is well-executed enhances this emotional turmoil. The Crucifixion appears on a variety of glass-cast artifacts, including Jesus Knuckles, which transforms an instrument of pain into a religious artifact. Attached to the wall with just a thin metal wire, the device seems ready to be pulled off and put to savage use. The piece,like several others, is unsettling, not only because is it blasphemous, in many ways it is spot-on. While Jesus preached peace, the church formed to emulate him has resorted to violence to further its ends. The entire room is dark, complex and moody, inviting us to have a hard (dare we say “come-to-Jesus”) look at how our actions on Earth reflect our heavenly aspirations.
Melissa Burley is my wildcard pick for this list. Candidly, I have not seen her exhibit her work outside of Artomartic. That said, I’ve noticed her work grow both in complexity and craftsmanship over the past several Artomatic exhibitions. Several years ago, she presented assemblages that attempted to combine found metallic objects and light with jumbled results. She’s back in 2015 with works of a more sculptural nature that develop a nice counter play between solid form and empty space. With edited, well-placed lighting elements, the steampunk-inspired works have a unique, three dimensional quality that pulls the work off the wall. Her work may not speak to every visitor, but it definitely speaks to the joys of attending Artomatic.
Artomatic runs through December 12, 2013. For hours and directions, visit their website here.