Opening Reception: Friday, March 13 from 6pm to 8:30pm
Opening Cancelled. On view by appointment only.
Psychoanalyzing Creativity: Transitional Spaces. An interview with painter and psychologist Dana Brotman: Saturday, March 21, 1pm Interviewer: Michael Krass, psychoanalyst
Touchstone Gallery Member Show
Transitional Spaces by Dana Brotman
“It is in the space between inner and outer world, which is also the space between people — the transitional space — that intimate relationships and creativity occur.” D.W. Winnicott, 1951
In this series of paintings for Transitional Spaces, Brotman explores the liminal space between what is here and what is gone, what is remembered and what is only dreamed, what is real and what is imagined, what is desired and simply and, at times, regrettably, what one does and does not have.
Brotman’s paintings for the exhibit continue her fascination with the face. Her portraits are sometimes of people she knows well, people she has seen in passing, or people who she has seen only in her mind. She combines traditional, at times even formal, qualities of portraiture with the use of the face as a medium for conveying the experience of deep reverie, the experience of being both in the now and in the then, of both memory and remembering.
Brotman’s exhibit will be shown alongside that of her close friend, painter Steve Alderton. Tragically, Alderton died quite suddenly this past summer at the age of 67 while preparing for his show. In thinking about whether it was even possible to show her work with a friend and fellow artist who is no longer present, Brotman delved into the places between the two of them, into the places where, through countless conversations about their art, their minds met, melded and came away with a renewed creative vision. She had to find a way to paint alongside someone who was both not there and there at the same time. As a result, many of the works she has painted for the exhibit seek to remember him to the exhibit’s viewers.
One way she brings memory of Alderton into her work is to use tubes of paint she found in his studio while cleaning it up after he died. These paints are in an entirely different palette than that which she has previously used: his bold pastels in contrast to her tendency toward primary colors, as well as deep, somber purples and olives. This difference is most evident in Renata (a name which, Brotman learned after naming the painting, means “rebirth”). This portrait of a young woman is done in a style typical of Brotman: stately yet off-kilter, the woman staring both beyond the viewer and into her own mind, both antique and modernist, set as it is in a frame painted into the composition that is both baroquely ornate and fluid like melted wax. Yet the colors are distinctly Alderton: an Easter egg lavender matte, bubble gum pink frock and improbably turquoise hair. Even the black background on which the frame sits intermingles with flecks of purple.
The idea of creating transitional spaces started for Brotman while Alderton was alive. She had developed a practice of painting her own compositions over paintings he had discarded and given to her for that purpose. The paintings she laid atop his had no direct relation to the ones beneath. Yet the influence of his work could not be refuted: it acted unconsciously on her process, guiding her, emboldening her and urging her on. In addition, she purposely allowed some of his paint to peek through her own compositions and, in this way, incorporated the materiality of his work into hers.
In Jacqueline, a portrait of an adolescent girl, she captures the subject’s personality and state of mind while exploring space, color and emotional tone. Again she uses Alderton’s paints: magenta for the background, lilac for the dress, a pale pink for the flesh and a cerulean blue for the girl’s chair, darkening this hues by applying them over a base of black, thereby creating a mood of solemnity, pensiveness and stillness. She used no brushes, only a scouring pad, thus the paint is not smooth. Rather it is scratched across the surface.
Camille appears, at first glance, to be staring directly out at the viewer but, upon closer inspection, her eyes are ever-so-slightly askew, looking at a point somewhere either before or behind the viewer. What stands out most is her face, the color of what Brotman describes as a “blue raspberry Slurpee,” which appears to blend into her squiggle-shaped pendant. All is mottled: her skin, her white blouse, the background evoking crushed red velvet in shadow. And to her right is a mysterious dark flower, out of scale and with no apparent context. Yet it frames her and offsets her radiance, the blue and white that nearly lifts off the canvas.
In Transitional Spaces, Brotman invites the viewer to take part in the act of grieving, a process of holding her lost friend in her mind in order to release him, and in seeking to transform the holes he left behind into spaces for remembering and creating.
Brotman has been a member of Touchstone Gallery for seven years. Her work has been shown in the DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas, was used as the centerpiece for a modern music performance by Fuse Ensemble at Atlas Performing Arts Center as well as for the cover of composer Gina Biver’s first album, (from where I sit). In addition to her work as a painter and photographer, she practices clinical psychology in Falls Church, VA.
Marrakech Portraits by Steve Alderton
Steve Alderton, a long time member of Touchstone Gallery, was busy planning this exhibit, Marrakech Portraits, a series of paintings inspired by a trip he took there in 2018, when he suddenly and unexpectedly died. The paintings in this exhibit have many of the features familiar in his work – an expressionist use of color with passing references to the cubists’ architecture of space and the impressionists’ hunger to recreate the intensity of sensual experience. Yet they often move in new directions. In particular he uses an earthier and darker palette, the people looking out from his paintings exuding a more complex emotionality than is conveyed in the wildflower-like symphony of bright colors that typify his earlier portraits.
One portrait, apparently a boy (all of the works in this show are untitled as Alderton died before he had a chance to name them), is almost entirely in lilac and eggplant apart from the black of the hair, a tiny curl of blue sitting inexplicably yet perfectly at the edge of the hairline, the hint of white on one ear suggesting a light source to the side or back. He also uses the tiniest dots of white at the eyes’ corners to let us know the eyes are open and alive albeit inwardly focused.
Another portrait, a bearded man, again contrasts dramatically with his earlier portraiture in that it is built entirely of earth tones. His skin is burnt umber, the curve of the top of his bald head catches the light, a pale gold, as does the side of his nose. The unlit side of his face is almost entirely hidden, bathed in green-gray shadow. And in another departure from past work, the background is a flurry of textured grays. As in the boy, the man’s blackened eyes with just a hint of white creates the sense of someone unaware of being watched, someone more attuned to what is inside than what is outside.
Alderton, although rarely using text in his work, includes on one portrait a portion of a poem by the Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi. In English, it reads:
The body of a bird in your mouth breathing songs.
Raw light spills from your eyes, utterly naked.
What is the distance between my voice and my longing?
This, the show he was working on when he died, presents the culmination of his effort to breach the chasm between voice and longing, between a feeling felt and the artist’s attempt to recreate it, an effort he pursued over the course of his prolific and productive career in his too-short life. While leaving a few pieces possibly unfinished or in the process of being altered, he left an opening for a dialogue as to when an artist feels their work to be complete.
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Touchstone Gallery is located at 901 New York Ave. NW. For more information, visit www.touchstonegallery.com.