East City Art Reviews—Three to See at Studio Gallery: Gary Anthes, Carolee Jakes and Harriet Lesser

By Claudia Rousseau, Ph.D. on June 28, 2021

Studio Gallery, an artists’ cooperative that boasts forty-five members at the moment, often features a group of small solos or two-person exhibits.  For their June-July schedule, the upper gallery is hosting a show of work by photographer Gary Anthes and multi-media artist Carolee Jakes.  New work by Harriet Lesser stands out in the lower gallery space.

Gary Anthes, Mouth of the Penobscot River, Maine, digital photograph, 2008 (printed archivally 2021).  Photo courtesy of Studio Gallery.

With a long, poetic title, “Time’s Shadow: Nothing Lasts, Nothing is Finished, Nothing is Perfect”, the selection of work by Anthes and Jakes was intended to express an idea of the beauty and inevitability of aging and change.  With reference to the traditional Japanese aesthetic tenet, wabi-sabi, or Buddhist teaching of acceptance of transience and imperfection, the work in this show was intended to express something about the imperfect, the impermanent and the incomplete in nature and human construction.

Gary Anthes, Greenbackville, VA, digital photograph, 2012 (printed archivally 2021).  Photo courtesy of Studio Gallery.

The photographs by Anthes are all in color, but it is the close tonalities of his photos of places where the water meets the land that are the best among them.  Among the most striking were Mouth of the Penobscot River, Maine and Greenbackville, Virginia, images that probably best express the wabi-sabi idea.  Both photos demonstrate this artist’s ability to compose an image that contains multiple shades of gray moving from dark to light.  And both of these show the wearing down of the wooden constructions at the shore and in the water.  The fog in the former envelops the distant forms, while in the latter one can almost feel the wind and taste the salt in the air that have worn down the wood.  The one pile that seems to pierce the thick clouds that are moving over the surface anchors the composition, echoing the lines of the slats of the construction, while the others conjure steps out into the ocean.

Gary Anthes, Flaming House Ruin, Mule Canyon, Utah, digital photograph, 2008 (printed archivally 2021).  Photo courtesy of Studio Gallery.

Anthes is a world traveler with series taken in many different geographical and geological places.  Among them is the American West, including a group from southern Utah, the location of numerous indigenous rock paintings and petroglyphs.  Among these is a photo in this exhibit showing handprints, a universal sign found in prehistoric art in places all over the world.  A striking image with a similar control of composition and tone, its simplicity draws the viewer to contemplate its antiquity.  I also found Anthes’ two photos of the interior of the Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia fascinating along these lines.  An abandoned, old place, it was the scene of brutal conditions and suffering still perceivable in these otherwise handsome photos.

Carolee Jakes, Eve, limestone. n.d. Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art.

Carolee Jakes is showing work in two and three dimensions.  Her prints are generally of less interest than her two artist’s books and a standing nude figure of Eve.  Carved of limestone it presents us with a heavy set, older woman with Asian facial features.  Her short legs and bulging stomach recall prehistoric fertility figurines like the Woman of Willendorf (c. 22,000 BC), and like her, Jakes’ Eve is no beauty by Western idealized standards.

Carolee Jakes, Practice, print fragments, text, wooden covers with antique latch, Coptic stitching, 2017.  Photo Claudia Rousseau for East City Art.

While both artist’s books are interesting, Practice is the more impressive. Its fan of cut pieces from the artist’s prints and other printed text materials are bracketed by two pieces of found mahogany wood and can be locked with an antique brass latch.  Most interesting is the elaborate Coptic stitching in five rows of copper thread that shines in the light.  From a craft point of view this piece is extraordinary.  But iconographically it is more intriguing as it is made of previously existing works of art, now reduced and reused to make this beautiful object that certainly can make one think of the impermanence and transience of everything.

Moving downstairs, Harriet Lesser’s solo, There is nothing permanent except Change is a group of reworked photos and a few pieces of sculpture.  The connection to the works upstairs in theme is evident from her title.  The idea for this series came to the artist last year while daily driving past a junk yard with an “immense mountain of car parts, appliance parts, wheels, and tires” and the “crashing of machinery” breaking it up.[1]  With the pandemic continuing, the mountain kept changing in aspect and Lesser began to take photographs.  The piles of junk took on a psychological significance.  Again, they spoke of the transience of things, and became symbols of “my life and the life of others reflected in those parts.”[2] In her studio, Lesser printed and reworked the photos with graphite, paint and photo transfer—a labor and time intensive process—so that each is unique. For her, the transformation of the photos can now represent the transformation of ourselves coming out of this difficult time.

Harriet Lesser, Leftover Yellow, mixed media photo transfer, 17 ½ “x 18”.  2021. Photo courtesy of Studio Gallery.

Among these works, two really stand out for their strong composition and handling: Leftover Yellow and Escape Route.  These large prints are mounted with magnets onto thin metallic sheets which have a shimmering look.  In both the colors are generally subdued, but in the first the one yellow car fender pops out against the gray wheel, and in the second a small piece of bright blue metal near the bottom leads the eye up the line of the bent pipe toward the wheel.  An online view of all the work in the show can be seen here: https://www.studiogallerydc.com/harriet-lesser-there-is-nothing-permanent.

Harriet Lesser, Escape Route, mixed media photo transfer, 17 ½ “x 18”.  2021. Photo courtesy of Studio Gallery.

Gary Anthes and Carolee Jakes, Time’s Shadow: Nothing Lasts, Nothing is Finished, Nothing is Perfect; Harriet Lesser, There is nothing permanent except Change, Studio Gallery, 2108 R Street NW, Washington DC 20008, 202-232-8734.  For more information go to: https://www.studiogallerydc.com/.

[1] Artist’s statement to this exhibition

[2] Ibid.