The 2019 Hill Center annual juried exhibition spreads across three floors of the Old Naval Hospital and features the work of more than 80 local artists. Works were judged by Caitlin Berry, Director of Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington, DC. CinCin Fang was awarded first place for her detailed still life Silk and Pearls, while Madison Bolls and Khanh Nguyen received second and third place awards respectively. Kim DiDonato-Murrell, Stephen White and Rashad Muhammad were also noted with honorable mentions.
Berry has selected a body of work noticeably free from commentary on current events; the mood is more pastoral than political. Perhaps this was due to the nature of the entries and not a deliberate decision by the juror, but the tone of the exhibition lacked the agita witnessed in many of the shows staged at area galleries over the past year. With the exception of Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin and, it could be argued, Meredith Morris, whose works touched upon the social movements, the dominant themes of the show included representational scenes of nature as well as portraiture. While more abstract works are also included, these pieces tended to use abstract elements in service of creating portraits or landscapes rather than focusing on the theoretical framework of abstraction in and of itself. Painting and photography dominate, with just two sculpturally-based wall hangings on display.
Though they approach the use of paint from differing perspectives, the three winning artists each display technical skill in creating works with emotional resonance. CinCin Fang’s Silk and Pearls is somewhat of an outlier in that her work is one of the very few still lifes in the exhibition, though that does not detract from the meticulousness of her artistry. The oil painting depicts a pearl necklace and matching earrings artfully arranged across what appears to be a large silk scarf. While the pearls are luminous, the real richness lies in the scarf, with soft folds and sheen are wonderfully cast in deft manipulations of light and dark paint. The soft flower petals woven into the fabric could have come straight from Monet’s garden in Giverny, their slightly impressionistic forms adding a nice contrast to the representational gems.
Second place finisher Madison Bolls strikes a different mood with her abstract Hollywood, a mixed media work featuring paper and acrylic on canvas. As one of the few purely abstract works, Hollywood uses crackling white paint to cast a patina of age over text describing by-gone Hollywood movies. Where Bolls is subtle, Khanh Nguyen’s two paintings brashly use bold color and patterned motif to create portraits that resonate with cultural symbolism. Together Koi and Crane depict women in a traditional kimono and more western dress respectively, the top portion of their faces are obscured by koi or paper cranes. The precise intent of the artist is unclear but, by covering the sitters’ eyes, the viewer is forced to look beyond the surface of the skin to understand the cultural mores that reside deep within the subconscious.
While the top finishers earned their accolades, other artists exhibiting also deserve our attention. One of the exhibition highlights is a room on the second floor that displays myriad approaches to portraiture. There, you’ll find not only Nguyen’s two works but also Rashad Muhammad’s Mose which captures the majesty of the human figure through shimmering blue skin tones contrasted with hair depicted in fiery orange hues. Isabella Martire uses soft lighting to underscore her sitter’s resolve in the nicely composed Subtle Strength, while Meredith Morris captures a similar spirit with her men in Buenos Hombres. Displayed adjacently, Zachary Reid’s Woman in Studio refutes realism in favor of quilted pattern to delineate the sitter’s elegant poise. This small “exhibition within an exhibition” gives the viewer a chance to contemplate a variety of ways in which artists can capture the human spirit.
Several particularly strong landscapes paintings also deserve our attention. Alden Schofield’s Monet’s Bateau presents a verdant landscape punctuated by hints of sunlight glimmering through the tree trunks which reflect off the still water. It is interesting to consider that Schofield chose to paint this scene in a realistic rather than impressionistic manner, given his title. Young Choi’s photograph Slow Time blurs the line between realism and abstraction, capturing a series of mountain crags as abstract, ruffled forms tinged with violet. The abstract qualities of the image are offset by the strong horizon line at the bottom of the work that renders two cattle diminutive, creating a unique perspective of scale. Also playing admirably with perspective is Teresa Jarzynski’s Cotton Clouds and Fields of Gold, which similarly pulls the horizon down to the bottom of the work. The earthly component of the work is further diminished by the small scale of the copse at bottom right. The result is that the viewer’s gaze is drawn upward, focusing on the majesty of the clouds floating gently through the heavens.
While the strength of the exhibition lies towards realistic depictions of humans and nature, several more abstract works are worth noting. Kim DiDonato-Murrell’s mixed-media Boulder Creek, Foothills at Sunset features wavy, abstract patterns of earth tones cannily arranged on ley lines that focus our attention past the surface of the work onto a point high upon the mountain’s summit. Rosemary Fallon’s small-scale Water and Light III uses a few well-positioned bands of color to simulate serene twilight. Christopher Fowler’s The Moore focuses our eye on the subtle lines of a Henry Moore sculpture. While the title immediately clues the viewer into the origins of the massive shape that dominates the picture plane, the attention lingers on the subtle interplay of mass, line and color that exists at the edge of the metallic surface.
All in all, the exhibition frames local creative output within a decidedly non-political context. This gives the viewer a break from some of the emotionally-charged works we have witnessed in the last several years made to call attention to current events. While at times refreshing, I found myself longing to experience that moment of frisson when one connects to a work intentionally meant to arouse our senses. Rather than elicit passion, the exhibition suggests that art which strives for sheer beauty ought to come with its own emotional reward.
The Hill Center Galleries Regional Juried Exhibition runs through March 2, 2019. For more information, visit their website here.
Banner Image: Boulder Creek, Foothills at Sunset (detail) by Kim DiDonato-Murrell
This article was funded in part by a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Visit their website at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com