Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mid-Atlantic New Painting 2008

Walk around downtown Fredericksburg, and you’ll find local artwork around every corner. Galleries have been carved out of all kinds of spaces. The Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts is in the 1785 Silversmith’s House (duck your head going down the stairs). LibertyTown, in a former plumbing warehouse, has hundreds of works of art hanging in cubicles and along hallways. There is the Brush Strokes gallery, best for small works of art because the space is too narrow to back up very much, and the ArtFirst space, where opening night receptions in the small gallery get so crowded you can hardly move. You can enjoy local artworks while you sip coffee, eat dinner, or browse for books downtown. I’ve been to art shows in apartments, lofts, and shops, and seen work exhibited in the unlikeliest nooks and crannies.

Last night, I went to my first art show at the Ridderhof Martin Gallery on the campus of Mary Washington. What makes this gallery different is that it was designed from the ground up to be exhibit space. It feels like you’re in a room at a major art museum...just one room (plus an alcove or two), but a very clean, serene space. The show was titled "Mid-Atlantic New Painting 2008," a juried exhibition which billed itself as “highlighting new developments in painting” throughout the region, and featuring an eclectic mix of styles from 33 artists from Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Although there were quite a few pieces that could hardly be considered “new developments,” I thought the quality of work was a cut above most of the locals-only, unjuried shows I’m used to seeing. And despite a good turnout for the opening reception, there was still plenty of room to view the art without being crowded. A number of Fredericksburg artists that I'm familiar with had works in the show, including David Lovegrove, Cliff Satterthwaite, Heidi Lewis, and UMW art professors Steve Griffin and Joseph DiBella.

The show runs through March 2, and admission is free. The gallery is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. It’s right on College Ave., between DuPont and Seacobeck, and I bet it’s empty during the day. Stop on in during your lunch break and take a quick look—I think you’ll be impressed with the quality of the work.

Above: This oil painting on scrap tin, "Spoon on a Horizon," by Michael Fitts, was my favorite of the show. Even in this photo, you can see how 3-dimensional it is. No, it's not a collage, just a flat painting of a spoon. Check out more of his work here.

Above: "The Proposed Relocation of the Embrey Dam," by David Lovegrove. Of the 33 works, this is the one that most needs to be hanging over my fireplace. I love his wit and use of vibrant color.

Above: Heidi Lewis' "Daily Correspondence," the runner up for over-the-fireplace honors. This one won third place in the show (and was the only award I agreed with).

Above: This painting, "Strata #17" by Steve Griffin, was hanging across from the bathrooms. I wonder how many people missed this one. More great color.

Top left: "Astroland," by Melissa Kuntz. Old New Yorkers like us know Astroland is an amusement park on Coney Island. Again, I love the color and the offbeat subject. In fact, I'm in love with all of Melissa's work. Check it out here.

And now, the sad tale of the artwork that got away: When my husband and I were in our early 20’s, we went to several outdoor art shows at the Fredericksburg Park & Shop shopping center, where artists’ booths lined the sidewalk from one end to the other. One year, at the booth of a young artist from King George was an offbeat piece titled “Chef Bob Grills Steaks in Your Bedroom.” It depicted exactly that: a chef in a white toque, grilling steaks on the BBQ grill while a couple in bed watched. It was odd in a totally delightful way, and my husband and I both loved it. Sadly, we were on a tight budget and passed it by. This was a mistake. Nearly 30 years later, I can still picture it in my head. So if you ever see something hanging on someone’s wall that fits this description, I’d love to know. I still comb the outdoor art shows in the area, hoping to see Chef Bob make a reappearance. This time, I won’t pass him by.

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