Art brings out the best of DC

I have been known to bash the Washington DC art scene for its lack of verve, daring, general lackluster audience and unfriendly artists.  It’s nice to be proven wrong, even if it does only occur every two years. Last night I attended the final evening of Artomatic and was pleasantly surprised. Artomatic is a month-long art festival held every two years in DC that is free to the general public. It celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and featured over 1,000 visual artists and 600 performing artists.

Imagine an empty about-to-be-renovated office building being turned over to a multitude of artists before the construction crews start ripping it apart. It is quite an incredible concept not to mention a fabulous use of the space, bringing out the creative underbelly of the city. I participated several years ago (see an example of my Seated Narratives gouache series below, several of which sold at the event). Artomatic works because the concept is a win-win, and the rules are simple – register, pay a nominal fee, lay claim to a section of wall, schlep in your artwork (anything goes) and set up your own pop-up gallery. Voila! Now wait for the throngs to come and hopefully catch the eye of gallery owners, buyers, curators, media or even snag some prestigious awards from the Renwick Museum.

Starting on the 11th floor and working my way down, I came across a poetry slam, a headless paper mache deer, graffiti art, intricate pencil drawings, talking bicycles, blue grass fiddlers, doggie portraits, hundreds of photographs of pouty women, murals, a crushed soda can installation, wannabe Rothko painters, toilet-seat handbags and circuit board tapestries. You get the idea – the art ranges from downright ugly to unexpected treasures. Here are just some of my favorite picks:

Ellen Hill Clusters
Ellen Hill Clusters

Gregory Ferrand

Ellen Hill’s acrylic work on carved birch is really unique and had me standing there looking at the works for quite some time, while Ferrand’s paintings just grab you with their originality and execution. Both these artists had a number of those coveted red dots beneath their works. Congrats!

Emily Piccirillo
Donna McCullough
(A word about Donna – we have both recently been published in the coffee table book Humor in Craft available on Amazon)

I also identified with a very clever installation by Deb Jansen entitled Manifesto to Mom. Jansen has recreated her parents living room, and riffs on what is or is not art, while touching upon the early influences which shape the type of art artists end up creating.

There were quite a few more which I encourage you to check out – Zofie Lang whose dark interpretations of fairy tales were channeled into gorgeous box constructions (she snagged an award), and Mary Annella Frank’s oversized assemblages made from a variety of found and constructed objects.

I believe this type of art event is unique to Washington DC. Are there any other cities with similar events?? It would be great if this caught on nationwide. I even got myself a nice little art purchase – check out the very appealing way in which artist Christopher Grady manipulates photographs with collage and color bars. I like!!

Untitled #17 by Christopher Grady