Monday, July 9, 2012

Washington DC Artists on Show

Contradiction is the artist's fate. To persist in the face of indifference, to paint because - well, you feel you have no choice. And do this in DC, a power town "where artists are the ugly stepchildren," as painter Michael Clark aka Clark V. Fox calls it - at the same time he calls DC "way underrated" in terms of the art produced here. "This art has soul, and only DC could produce people like this."
 Does he mean that artists in the nation's capital are beyond being corrupted? No, he says at the July 7th reception for "The Constant Artist" exhibit at AU's Katzen Arts Center, just one of the city's many mainly-free stimulating venues to tease the eye and mind. He thinks the inspiration of these places helps keep the senses alive, the artist in touch with his/ her soul.
So goes wishful thinking in the summer of 2012. although the exhibit itself defies any such pessimism. The fulcrum for the exhibit is photographer Paul Feinberg and portraits he has done through the years of nine of the city's leading artists, then and now, accompanied by some of their representative work. The walls are alive with stories, mainly of good times past when Feinberg, a "double dipper" of sorts like many in DC who lead dual lives (he trained was an engineer and worked at NASA), made sure to tape interviews with his subjects "as a way of knowing them, the better to photograph them."

A central figure for him in the '70s and '80s - "the scene then had a generosity of spirits, real camaraderie" -  was the late artist Manon Cleary, a legendary hostess who introduced him to the demi-monde of that era, a more dynamic time than now. "Buyers aren't out there as much now but artists still paint, and I was interested in why they continued, why they were so intent in the pursuit of beauty and creativity." Cleary, he says, "enhanced whatever she saw; she saw beauty in whatever she saw. She had so much to say and never minced words. She was very generous but tough if you crossed her."

Fred Folsom agrees that the rich trove of museums here make the difference, even if few  of them ever bother to celebrate the talent underfoot. "I always assumed the National Gallery of Art was there for me alone," he tells the audience wistfully. Folsom's seldom displayed giant  1987 triptytch "Last Call (at the Shepherd Park Go-Go Club) is just one of the special pieces on view through August 12. It's a living portrait in motion of good times and bad, a real place "pitch black when I went in and sat down, the music so loud that nobody could hear anyone else and had nothing to do with anyone else. I've got a lot of old friends here; I have stories about everybody." Soul brothers and sisters, many of them, a remembrance of things past still current.

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