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Athena Naylor

With ‘Bridges and Alleys,’ local artist offers intimate, sometimes moody look at DC beyond the monuments

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published on The DC Line and can be read on their website here.

Artistic portrayals of Washington frequently draw from one or more of the city’s distinguishing landmarks to convey a sense of place, whether that involves highlighting skylines sculpted by the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome or illustrating vistas of the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial that evoke the nation’s popular imagination. At Artist’s Proof Gallery in Georgetown, however, an ongoing exhibition of drawings and paintings titled Bridges and Alleys: A Collection of Works by DC-based artist Scott Ivey offers an alternative vision of DC removed from nationally recognizable landmarks. The exhibit provides a more intimate, quotidian portrait of the city — one that’s frankly relatable to local residents.

The strength of the 14 paintings and drawings on display in Bridges and Alleys derives from Ivey’s personal connection to DC. Ivey was born in North Carolina and first came to Washington as a student, receiving training from Montgomery College in Takoma Park and the Corcoran School of Art in DC before eventually getting his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1987. Since that time, Ivey has lived in DC and focused his practice on painterly urban landscapes. Currently residing in Georgetown, Ivey pays homage through his works to DC neighborhoods such as Shaw, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Southwest and downtown.

Ivey’s views of DC seem simultaneously immediate and meditative, specific and dreamlike. Rather than searching for scenes to illustrate, Ivey allows images to find him, often finding inspiration while running errands and or taking neighborhood strolls. His charcoal drawings achieve a ghostly effect reminiscent of old photographs, composed of faint lines and overexposed expanses of white contrasted with indistinct swaths of shadow. His 1988 drawing Rainy Scene is particularly enigmatic, with houses on an unnamed street depicted through abstract, atmospheric shapes. 

Ivey’s oil paintings appear preoccupied by light and often highlight a less obvious characteristic specific to DC’s urban landscape: the sweeping views of sky afforded by the city’s building-height restrictions. The paintings 19th Street (2000) and Rosslyn (2003) particularly focus on this aspect of the urban landscape: The former shows the hazy atmosphere above a cloudy day in DC, the latter illustrates the Northern Virginia skyline from a great distance, dwarfed by a morning sky striped with sun-kissed clouds. 

The seeming specificity of light in Ivey’s works stems from his practice of drafting on-site studies of scenes. These preliminary sketches are translated into final pieces through years of gradual, meditative work. Rather than portraying distinct moments in time, Ivey’s landscapes transform into portraits of feeling and memory encapsulated by place. “I intentionally start with a dark background, slowly introducing light into the painting; the scenes slowly reveal themselves in the emerging light,” Ivey says in a bio on his website. 

The often moody and melancholic nature of Ivey’s work also points to his artistic influences, including American realist Edward Hopper. In a manner similar to Hopper’s paintings, Ivey’s depictions of DC are of a strangely deserted city, devoid of pedestrians. Often, the only signs of life come from shadowy cars or blurred headlights on streets and bridges. Hopper’s influence is clear from Ivey’s online bio, which ends with the famous Hopper quote, “If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”

Ivey will be speaking about his process and practice on Wednesday, Aug. 14, during an evening workshop at Artist’s Proof Gallery. Bridges and Alleys will remain open to the public through Aug. 24, providing time for visitors to stop by and consider how the artist’s depictions of DC coincide or diverge from their own personal experiences of the city.

“Bridges and Alleys: A Collection of Works by Washington DC Artist Scott Ivey” opened at Artist’s Proof Gallery and Art Consultancy on July 17 and will close on Aug. 24. Located at 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Artist’s Proof is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Anthony Bowen YMCA gallery enters its second year with vibrant mixed-media exhibit evoking the Caribbean islands

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published on The DC Line and can be read on their website here.

The Shaw neighborhood’s Anthony Bowen YMCA, the organization’s first African American branch in the world, has an extensive track record of social engagement spanning its 166-year history. With Gallery Y, an exhibition space that debuted last year, the Anthony Bowen YMCA aims to further its mission to foster diverse local voices within the creative community.

Gallery Y, which acts as an open community space accessible both through the lobby of the YMCA and the adjacent Sweetgreen restaurant, currently displays 28 pieces by artist-in-residence Tracy Monsanto. Her show A Journey in Mixed Media opened June 7 in conjunction with National Caribbean Heritage Month, a celebration dedicated to honoring the history and diversity of the Caribbean islands and the numerous cultural contributions of Caribbean Americans.

Monsanto — a Caribbean American artist who grew up in Trinidad and now lives and works in Tampa, Florida — specializes in vibrant mixed-media pieces. While A Journey in Mixed Media features some stylized figurative work, Monsanto’s creative process shines most in her non-figural abstract pieces, which illustrate the artist’s interest in intuitively exploring relationships among color, texture and material. 

Monsanto’s larger works, like her 2019 “Time to Refresh,” highlight collaged materials of hand-painted papers and found objects, while smaller pieces like her 2016 composition “Night Dreams” feature mark-making suggestive of personal artistic motifs. Monsanto’s “Love Holds Us Together II,” completed in 2019, features the artist’s use of thick paint with glaze, a process that results in an almost enamel-like effect. In this piece, the technique results in an organic green form on the canvas that feels almost geographic, a fitting association since Monsanto derives much of her inspiration from nature.

The exhibit’s opening marked the one-year anniversary of Gallery Y. Diane Taitt, executive director of the Anthony Bowen YMCA, developed the gallery space and artist residency in order to foster community engagement and collaboration in the Shaw neighborhood and beyond. 

In its first year, Gallery Y launched three shows, starting with its inaugural artist-in-residence, Marielle Barrow. Barrow, a Caribbean-born visual artist, social entrepreneur and arts management consultant, earned her doctorate in cultural studies at George Mason University. Her show also coincided with Caribbean Heritage Month and examined cultural associations among place, space and belonging. The gallery hosted the launch of Barrow’s book Sacred Spaces: A Sense of Place, co-written with Antonius Roberts, and her residency included a Caribbean American Heritage event. Barrow continues to engage with her Caribbean heritage through the arts journal she founded, Caribbean Intransit.

Last September, Gallery Y presented its second exhibit — Seven Centuries, which featured Leslie Anne Hansley’s paintings inspired by African masks along with the photography of Maryland-based photojournalist Donovan Marks. More recently, the Rev. Sandra Butler-Truesdale, another Gallery Y artist-in-residence and the president and founder of DC Legendary Musicians, organized an “Art Meets Music” event in May that celebrated the DC jazz scene. 

With Tracy Monsanto’s A Journey in Mixed Media, Gallery Y is kicking off its second year of exhibitions. 

Through Gallery Y, the Anthony Bowen YMCA is building on a history of cultivating creativity in the community. Established by religious leader and educator Anthony Bowen in 1853, the organization found its first permanent home at 1816 12th St. NW in 1912, seven years after it was officially recognized as a branch of the YMCA of Washington. It was there that Langston Hughes wrote poetry when he was working as a busboy, Thurgood Marshall devised legal strategies, and legendary Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson Jr. practiced his game. The YMCA branch was formally named after Bowen in 1972, and in 1988 it moved to its new location on W Street NW, which was renovated in 2013. 

Gallery Y looks toward a future of continued community engagement with new projects, including its first National Endowment for the Arts grant and a partnership with local curator Beth Ferraro of the creative consulting project The Art Island.

The YMCA’s Taitt expressed excitement for Gallery Y’s role as a “vibrant cultural community node.” She says the gallery is always on the lookout for new partnerships, funding and volunteers to sustain its mission. Details on the space’s programming and opportunities are available on its website

Located in the Anthony Bowen YMCA at 1325 W St. NW, Gallery Y is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A Journey in Mixed Media opened June 7 and will be on display through Aug. 2. All exhibited artworks are for sale.

Pulled in part from Corcoran Legacy Collection, exhibit at AU Museum reveals Tony Podesta’s aesthetic eye

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published on The DC Line and can be read on their website here.

An expansive new exhibit at American University’s Katzen Arts Center offers a survey of contemporary sculpture and photographs through works donated by lobbyist and internationally influential art collector Tony Podesta — including many originally given to the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The Gifts of Tony Podesta— on display at the American University Museum through March 17 — highlights the work of 26 artists while celebrating Podesta’s aesthetic eye.

The exhibit, the first major show drawn from American University’s Corcoran Legacy Collection, takes up two floors of the museum. It showcases items from the holdings bestowed to American when the Corcoran was folded into The George Washington University in 2014, along with work that Podesta has donated directly within the past five years.

Podesta has been a longtime champion of contemporary female artists. The Katzen’s last show featuring his collection — 2011’s Inner Piece: Works From the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection — focused specifically on this aspect of his holdings, displaying the work of four notable women photographers and painters. The Gifts of Tony Podesta offers a broader exploration of his collection.

Photography steals the show in The Gifts of Tony Podesta, comprising the majority of items on display. Jennifer Sakai, an art professor at George Washington who curated the photographic portion of the exhibit, remarks in wall signage how Podesta’s photographic collection “creates beguiling and mysterious narratives.” Almost all the photography included in Gifts provides some sense of story, often creating visual tension through the incorporation of both familiar and unexpected narratives.

One of the first pieces the viewer encounters in Gifts is Mwangi Hutter’s If, a 50-inch-by-66-inch chromogenic print that displays a disorientingscene. The 2003 photograph is based off a propaganda image of Hitler, in which he is depicted surrounded by a cluster of “ideal” Aryan women. Mwangi Hutter, an artistic collective made up of partners Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter, reimagines this scene, placing a superimposition on Hitler’s face and replacing the women with repeated images of Ingrid Mwangistaring at the Hitler stand-in, toward the camera or off to the side. Her clones wear different outfits, take on different gestures and crowd the image. The viewer feels invited into this grouping that explores the layered racial and historical dynamics of Mwangi Hutter’s identity-focused art practice.

If introduces the viewer to the kind of decoding required of many of the narratives featured in Gifts, as multiple photographs in the show consider decontextualized stories and subverted archetypes. Prints by Anna Gaskell, a contemporary photographer whose work often references gothic fiction and fairy tales, place viewers in the middle of unexplained stories. In Gaskell’s 1998 print Untitled #44 (Hide), a limp, wet hand lays in a puddle on a hardwood floor, while in Untitled #47 (Hide) from the same year, a blond girl in white pins down a possible doppelganger in a shot from above that obscures both characters’ faces, offering snippets of a longer narrative at which viewers can only guess.

Even in works not so figuratively focused, there is a sense of narrative sequence. A standout inclusion is Darren Almond’s Six Months Later, a 24-part piece composed of 1,440 tiny photographs that depict the artist’s studio minute by minute over the course of 24 hours. In this 1999 work, the viewer can track the passage of time via the black digital clock on the wall of each identically composed shot, which differ onlyin the quality of light shining through the scene as the day progresses. These small, incremental photographs form a monumental installation, creating a simultaneously intimate and imposing portrait of time.

The sculptural portion of The Gifts of Tony Podesta, coordinated by Klaus Ottmann, chief curator of the Phillips Collection, simultaneously seems to connect and diverge thematically from the photographic work presented.

A highlight of the sculpture in the show is artistic duo Jake and Dinos Chapman’s 1999 Rape of Creativity, a miniature diorama that depicts a man who has chopped off his own hand (one assumes accidentally) while carving a female wooden torso from a log. The diorama delights with remarkably minute details, such as the miniscule beer bottles visible when one peers inside the man’s tiny RV. Circling the small scene, one notices a dog with a sheep’s head carrying the man’s dismembered hand in its mouth. The play between mundane familiarity and surreality within the scene clearly relates The Rape of Creativity to the kinds of beguiling narratives offered by the photography in the rest of the show.

A similar sense of surreal narrative permeates the work of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini, whose installation Siren Mole: Excellocephala Parthenopa from 2000 is an animatronic sculpture of two imagined creatures in a glass enclosure like those commonly found in biology labs. Swedish artist Ann-Sofi Sidén’s fountain Fideicommissum offers another figural sculpture for the show, depicting a self-portrait of the artist urinating that makes the viewer aware of one’s body and privacy. The peeing woman’s eyes are closed, positioning the viewer as a voyeur. However, when squatting to admire the sculpture, we find ourselves in the same peeing position as Sidén, transforming us from a distanced observer into a self-conscious, vicarious participant.

Other sculptural selections — such as Jone Kvie’s Untitled globular stainless steel mushroom cloud, Janaina Tschape’s suitcase filled with two water-filled latex balloons, and Gyan Panchal’s two standing pieces of foam board titled Papyri, all from the 2000s — may seem too abstract and out of place in contrast to the other, more figural components of the Gifts of Tony Podesta. However, the diversity of work on display is no detriment to the exhibit. After all, The Gifts of Tony Podesta makes no claim to coherence besides the fact that Podesta collected all pieces on display.

While the works on display in The Gifts of Tony Podesta portray people and places, the exhibit as a whole functions as a portrait of Podesta himself and his avocation as an art collector. In the foreword to the exhibition catalog for the show, the guest curators and contributing essayists — including National Museum of Women in the Arts director Susan Fisher Sterling and NMWA chief curator Kathryn Wat — provide insights that “add another level to an already satisfying experience.”

The “gifts” in The Gifts of Tony Podesta extend beyond the physical objects on display to more broadly include Podesta’s aesthetic taste as a collector. It is best to experience the collection in person and create one’s own connections to the presented objects and narratives. There is inevitably more to see and say about such a dense and rich exhibit. To view it is a worthy time investment, especially for anyone who has missed being able to access the Corcoran’s old holdings.

The Gifts of Tony Podesta is on view through March 17 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center at 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Regular museum hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Neon sculpture exhibit at Georgetown gallery shows possibilities of light

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published in The DC Line and can be read on that site here.

Each winter, DC offers a variety of spectacles that coincide with the Season of Light, from ZooLights at the National Zoo to the public light art display GLOW in Georgetown. This year, the Susan Calloway Fine Arts gallery contributes its own luminous display to the season with its show Drawn by Light, a retrospective of neon sculpture artist and DC resident Craig Kraft on display through Friday.

You may have seen Kraft’s work without realizing it. His studio in Anacostia is responsible for the neon sculpture outside the Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Neighborhood Library, along with an array of other commissioned light sculptures brightening public spots in Silver Spring, Rockville and Arlington. At the Susan Calloway gallery in Georgetown, the Drawn by Light exhibit acquaints viewers with Kraft’s smaller, more personal projects, offering a concise yet eclectic selection of works from his 35-year career.

Kraft is a master and devoted advocate of neon light as an artistic medium, which he appreciates for its versatility in color and form. He has taught neon light sculpture at the Smithsonian Institution Studio Arts Program since 1992.

On his website, Kraft describes the nature of light as something “tangible but intangible” that “begs questions of perception and importance.”

This artistic philosophy can be seen in various works in the gallery show, including “Ground Zero III.” In this piece from 2013, Kraft uses neon tubing to highlight a drawn lizard in a photograph of dense graffiti inside the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The neon tubing interacts with and transforms the photograph, altering our perception of the graffiti and its symbols. Kraft adds his own mark to an image already filled with layered inscriptions that span the history of the Ground Zero establishment.

The concept of mark-making has been a significant focus of Kraft’s practice in recent years, and has motivated him to travel to Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe to view some of the oldest known human rock and cave drawings. These trips inspired several works in Drawn by Light, including “Castillo Hands Flickering Light.” This piece re-creates the prehistoric hand stencils found in the Cave of El Castillo in Spain through acrylic paint on paper, which Kraft backlights with a pulsing glow that mimics the flickering light on a cave wall.  

Kraft’s travels also inspired one of the more striking pieces in the exhibit, “The Damaged Spirit of the African Elephant.” Made of parallel layers of bright blue aluminum and neon tubing bent into three dimensions, the piece depicts the head of an elephant with glowing red marks dissecting its trunks, referencing the ongoing poaching of this endangered species.

Regarding this piece and a related larger elephant sculpture in his studio, Kraft writes that light can represent the simultaneously material and immaterial of an animal spirit, suggesting “an inner spiritual world much more complex than its outer appearance.”

Pieces like this do lose some impact, however, because they are isolated from their companion pieces from Kraft’s full series. In particular, “Castillo Hands” would benefit from the contextualizing company of the other light sculptures in Kraft’s “Cave Drawings” series.

In Drawn to Light, the works that really shine (both literally and figuratively) are those that explicitly celebrate neon light, without using the medium to illuminate or represent another visual or physical component. “Pulsing Neon,” for example, comprises an abstract tangle of different-colored neon tubes crammed into a shadow box. The neon jumble emits a gently pulsing light that makes the piece feel alive, like a breathing, organic circuit.

“Unintentional Drawing III,” from 2009, presents the viewer with an abstract drawing composed of swirling tubes of blue neon light. The title is engaging because it seems contradictory to the artwork. Nothing appears unintentional in this piece, the only one in the exhibit that allows viewers to peer behind the back panel and see the electrical wiring — a glimpse of the immense forethought that must go into each neon work.

Both “Pulsing Neon” and “Unintentional Drawing III” highlight Kraft’s interest in recognizing the overlooked, reconstructing new pieces out of random discarded materials in his studio. The neon tubing in the latter piece is a translation of a mindless doodle Kraft then reimagined into a massive light sculpture, suggesting the meaningful significance in unconscious actions and creations.

The pieces reviewed here are a small selection of the works displayed in Drawn by Light. To present 35 years of work in a small, upstairs gallery is a challenge, especially for a retrospective show, but the exhibit offers a succinct introduction to Kraft’s artistry beyond his more monumental public sculptures. The gallery show is a welcome stop for anyone who appreciates the manifold possibilities of light during a dark winter.

Drawn by Light opened on Nov. 30 and will be on view through Dec. 28 at the Susan Calloway Fine Arts gallery at 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. To learn more about Craig Kraft and his studio, you can visit his website and read about his travels through his contributions to the magazine Timeless Travels.

Washington Revels celebrate Yuletide

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published in The DC Line.

The Washington Revels’ annual holiday production returns to Lisner Auditorium this weekend to welcome Yule with a romping production of Elizabethan music and dance that celebrates the group’s 35 years in the District.

The latest version of The Christmas Revels invites viewers to Elizabethan England to follow the exploits of professional fool Will Kemp, a comic actor who historically served in Shakespeare’s theater company and famously Morris danced from London to Norwich in a nine-day publicity stunt. The 2018 production, which debuted last weekend, imagines a scenario in which Kemp (played by Mark Jaster) arrives in Norwich at the same time as her majesty Queen Elizabeth I (played by Katrina Van Duyn), who has come to enjoy rustic entertainment and celebrate Christmas away from the trappings of court.

The Christmas Revels is a yearly seasonal celebration showcasing traditional folk dances, the art of pantomime, music and participatory theater for all ages. Revels Inc., under which Revels groups across the country are affiliated, was founded in 1971 in Boston, but the phenomenon soon spread — first to New Hampshire in 1975, and most recently to Santa Barbara, Calif., its 10th location, in 2007. DC’s production group launched in the early 1980s and annually hosts a variety of participatory events such as Community Singssummer paradesMay Revels and, of course, its largest event — The Christmas Revels, which each year focuses on a different time period and folk tradition.

As a historical variety show, the 2018 production excels. Upon entering the theater, each audience member receives a program that not only provides sheet music for the eight singalongs included in the production, but also features a veritable history lesson on English folk culture. The program offers a concise but thorough explanation of the cultural origin and purpose of each song and dance performed on stage.

Within the show, musical performances are heightened by the accompaniment of Piffaro: The Renaissance Band, which imbues the production with sounds of the time, showcasing beautiful medieval and Elizabethan instruments, from horns and recorders to giant lutes.

The size and spectacle of The Christmas Revels is part of its public appeal, and the production company boasts an extensive cast that includes players from “age 8 to 88.” Accolades must go to artistic director Roberta Gasbarre and the Revels costume shop for making period costumes for a cast of nearly 100 people. The large and varied cast is indeed a feat and a highlight of the show. The children players are particularly charming in their period-specific song and pantomime numbers.

However, occasionally the sheer size of the Revels cast works against the production’s visual definition. The large folk dances, in particular, lose focus due to the significant number of performers cluttering the Lisner stage. The number of players in the production works best in one of the comedic highlights of the show, when each villager of Norwich, in an attempt at theatrical acting, cries out a line of a Shakespearean tragedy before dramatically perishing, resulting in the absurd and hilarious staged mass death.

When the production provides space for less crowded scenes, individual players within the production are allowed to shine. A purple-lit nighttime scene in the beginning of Act 2 opens with the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, an ancient ritual whose meaning has been forgotten but whose impact remains engaging and mysterious. Dancers adorned with antlers and accompanied by a traditional recorder weave around the stage, creating a dreamlike atmosphere that serves as a respite to the more raucous rustic entertainment that fills the rest of the show.

Soon, Kemp — adorned with a donkey’s head from his rehearsals with the village players for their Yule play — encounters Queen Elizabeth sleeping outdoors in her nightgown. With his identity disguised, Kemp promenades with the queen in a comedic scene that makes full use of Jaster’s training in pantomime.

The sequence pays homage to A Midsummer’s Night Dream and the Shakespearean motif of strange and fantastical encounters occurring at night in the woods. When Kemp and the queen recognize each other the next morning in the village, both visibly decide to say nothing of the experience. What happens in the woods stays in the woods.

The Christmas Revels delivers what it sells as a revival and celebration of Elizabethan and Yuletide cultural traditions. If there is any reservation attached to the show, it would be toward how well these traditions translate to the current day. For example, in the second act of the show Queen Elizabeth delivers a monologue about the joy of the holiday season with the promise that “the gloom of the world is just a shadow.” This speech fits the historical purpose of  Yule as a solstice celebration that marked the end of days growing shorter and the beginning of increasing daylight. However, the reaction to this line, which was clearly meant to engender hope, was rather subdued at the Saturday matinee on Dec. 8. Perhaps having a monarch assure the poorer working class that their struggles are “just a shadow” falls a little flat after a rather tumultuous year, especially for a politically minded Washington audience.

The crowd reserved its cheers and applause for other moments, such as when the all-female troupe of the Rock Creek Morris Women gave Kemp a run for his money in a Morris dance duel. Raucous laughter also followed jokes about Canadian and American health care during the amusing play-within-a-play sequence in Act 2. It is 2018, after all, and there is benefit to focusing on the “expansion” aspect of the Revels’ mission to “revive, sustain, expand, and celebrate cultural traditions.”

Any recommendation to see The Christmas Revels should come with a caveat — you must enjoy participatory theater and be receptive to singing along with large groups. To say the experience is for everyone would be presumptuous. But for those looking for a family-friendly alternative to more standard holiday outings such as The Nutcracker or A Christmas CarolThe Christmas Revelsis a festive way not only to welcome Yule, but also to learn about unique historical traditions and gain a better appreciation for DC’s local performers and varied, thriving community ensembles.

To purchase tickets for The Christmas Revels: An Elizabethan Celebration of the Winter Solstice, visit the Washington Revels website. Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m. (Family Friday); Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets cost $18 to $60 for adults and $12 to $40 for ages 18 and younger. George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium is located at 730 21st St. NW.

Wilson Building display of political cartoonist’s work shows long history of voting rights struggle

by Athena Naylor

This article was first published in The DC Line.

Last month’s pivotal midterm election provoked heightened frustration over DC’s lack of a vote in Congress. District residents on Nov. 6 may have found themselves longingly gazing across the Potomac River to spy on Arlington County, where ballots provided choices for voting members of the House and Senate and where residents did not drive to the polls with license plates that decry the continued condition of “taxation without representation.”

This scene of a lonely and left-out DC (minus the detail of motor vehicles) is reflected in one of the seven C.K. Berryman cartoons now on display indefinitely on the fifth floor of the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the offices of the District’s mayor and council. This tribute to Berryman, in addition to celebrating a distinguished DC cartoonist, pointedly illustrates the longevity of the city’s struggle for a political voice.

Clifford Kennedy Berryman was an influential political cartoonist who began his career during the Gilded Age, a post-Civil War period marked by superficial displays of wealth masking deep social inequalities. That time also coincides with the golden age of American political cartoons and the rise of print publications such as Harper’s Weekly, Puck and Judge.

In 1891, Berryman began working for The Washington Post before going on to work for the Washington Star from 1907 until his death in 1949. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial work in 1944.

Berryman is perhaps best known for penning the drawing of President Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear that inspired the production of teddy bears. In fact, visitors who view the cartoons in the Wilson Building should keep an eye out for a trumpeting bear in one of the illustrations. This bear became a recurring character and mascot for Berryman’s career, often appearing as an additional commentator to his scenes and linking the artist’s later works to the famous cartoon that made teddy bears a national phenomenon.

Berryman also drew the 1898 cartoon that popularized the well-known rallying cry “Remember the Maine!” during the Spanish-American War. The tribute in the Wilson Building highlights another dominant motif of Berryman’s career: his frequent commentary during his tenure at the Washington Star on DC’s lack of congressional power.

Around the corner from the Council Chamber and near the office of DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, visitors can find prints of seven cartoons about “voteless DC” surrounding a painting of Berryman by Richard Sumner Meryman Sr. that was previously part of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s collection and is on long-term loan to the DC Council from American University, the current owner. In each illustration, Berryman represents DC as a stout man in 18th-century clothing, including a powdered wig, tricorn hat, buckle shoes, and small round glasses. DC’s relatively stout stature serves as a visual contrast to lanky Uncle Sam, who appears in several of the selected cartoons either ignoring DC or requesting taxes and soldiers despite DC’s complaints of taxation without representation.

This all-too-familiar slogan often appears on the image of a ball and chain that keeps Berryman’s DC anchored to Revolutionary-era sentiments and frustrations. In one cartoon, Berryman draws DC gazing up at a painting depicting the “beginning of the war against taxation without representation, April 19, 1775” while DC remarks, “That war was never won, if you ask me!”

Other illustrations directly reference the Boston Tea Party, including one cartoon recognizing the 163rd anniversary of the event and another showing a waterlogged DC in the tea-filled harbor exclaiming, “Hey! It was the tea, not me, to go overboard!”

Either cathartic or frustrating in their illustration of DC’s long and continued fight for voting rights, the Berryman cartoons in the Wilson Building — created more than seven decades ago — remain relatable to the modern eye. Considering their shared political content, the illustrations’ current location beside municipal offices is appropriate.

Visiting the Berryman tribute during its indefinite tenure in the Wilson Building is certainly worthwhile for an up-close view of Berryman’s detailed, cross-hatched pen illustrations, and to contemplate the history of political cartoons in a city where editorial illustration continues to thrive.

With only seven cartoons on display, the Wilson Building tribute that debuted this fall can hardly give a sense of Berryman’s prolific career. For those interested in further exploring Berryman’s extensive oeuvre and the other subjects his cartoons illustrated, the Library of Congress holds many prints, and the DC Public Library holds a digital collection of 108 Berryman cartoons that are accessible online.

Interplay between DC artist’s portraits, geometric work creates engaging experience at AU Museum

By Athena Naylor

This article was first published in The DC Line.

The contrasting pursuits of DC artist and American University professor Ian Jehle are both on full view in a new exhibit at the university’s Alper gallery space, with Jehle’s well-known, large-scale figurative drawings of prominent members of the DC arts community displayed alongside his abstract, geometric work that’s rooted in his training as an engineer.

Jehle was initially hesitant about placing these two aspects of his artistic practice side by side, according to curator Laura Roulet’s introductory wall text for Ian Jehle: Dynamical Systems at the American University Museum in the Katzen Arts Center. Visitors will be thankful his skepticism was short-lived. Sharing a space, Jehle’s mathematically inspired work and his large-scale portraits create an engaging and imaginative gallery experience.

The exhibit’s title refers to a mathematical concept. In scientific models, “dynamical systems” convey the evolution of a certain state over time, such as calculating the mechanics of a moving point through space (the swinging of a pendulum, for example). In broader terms, dynamical systems illustrate the relationships between variables in space and time.

This nod to the mathematical influences in Jehle’s abstract work also points to the show’s larger theme of interrelation. In the introductory text for the show, Jehle explains that his aim in combining his portraiture and abstract work was “to focus [the] geometric work on distorting, stretching and augmenting the Alper Gallery space and then placing the portraits within that augmented space and seeing how they react.”

Jehle’s abstract work complements his portraiture. The exhibit’s first geometric installation — “Tile/Trial: Anti-Tiling Permutations in the Form of a Game” — represents the result of a game played by American University students in adherence to Jehle’s instructions. Competing teams equipped with red and blue tape laid down patterns in order to block the opposing team’s tiling efforts, resulting in tessellations of red and blue tape that cover the glass doors, floors and walls of the Alper Gallery and guide visitors toward the first portrait of the exhibit, “The Gallerist.” Further inside, intersecting red, blue and green bungee cords arc across the walls and ceiling to create a visual frame for the largest and most striking drawing in the show, “The Collectors (Richard Gould and Lena Skanby).”

The interrelations between other abstract pieces and Jehle’s portraits are not as straightforward. Separated from the rest of the exhibit via a partition, the tape mural “The Transit of a Hilbert Space onto a Hilbert Space is itself a Hilbert Space” depicts a maze-like area folded into itself, a two-dimensional representation of a convoluted three-dimensional construction. Across the way, two portraits of local art collectors — “Philip Barlow” and “Lisa Gilotty” — seem to look out past “Hilbert Space” at the viewer.

Rather than seeking to draw conclusions from the physical orientation of these three pieces, it seems more appropriate to consider the relationships among them conceptually. “Hilbert Space” encapsulates Jehle’s aim to augment space by distorting our understanding of two dimensions and three dimensions on a theoretical level. “Philip Barlow” and “Lisa Gilotty” similarly provoke questions of space, though they do so in terms of interpersonal distance.

Interpersonal distance arguably affects all portraiture, no matter the style or subject, since the genre’s conceit is to create a two-dimensional stand-in for a three-dimensional person. However, Jehle’s portraiture particularly emphasizes the push and pull of familiarity and detachment. “Philip Barlow” and “Lisa Gilotty” draw the viewer to the nearly life-size subjects, only to find both portraits so faintly rendered in colored pencil that they seem to glow with immateriality, appearing translucent and insubstantial.

In other drawings — “Iona Rozeal Brown” and “Henry Thaggert,” for example — Jehle opts to leave his subjects’ faces unfinished and floating in a void, relying on viewers to complete the portrait in their mind. In “The Collectors (Richard Gould and Lena Skanby),” Jehle challenges notions of interpersonal distance by depicting an intimate moment on a monumental scale. The beautifully rendered 72-inch-by-151-inch drawing depicts partners Richard Gould and Lena Skanby in the midst of an open-mouthed kiss, their tongues colliding in the center of the composition.

Though Jehle’s drawings represent people he knows “to varying degrees,” he inserts interpersonal distance between himself and his subjects through his drafting process. Jehle does not ask his subjects to model for him. Instead, the artist creates composite images of friends and acquaintances by relying on photos of his subjects, along with other models whose body type is similar to that of his chosen subject.

Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, describes Jehle’s portraits as “right-brain feats” and his geometric installations as products of the artist’s left brain. This description, while acknowledging the differences between Jehle’s drawings and abstract artworks, also insists on their similarities, as the left brain and right brain necessarily connect to create a cohesive whole.

So it is with Jehle’s geometric and figurative work in Dynamical Systems. Both the mathematically inspired installations and portraits are well-executed and enjoyable on their own, but their union encourages comparison and conjecture. The harmony of Jehle’s two artistic approaches is difficult to articulate, but to leave the gallery with concrete conclusions seems antithetical to the exhibit’s intentions. As curator Laura Roulet writes of the show, “The conditions are set for wonder.”

Ian Jehle: Dynamical Systems, presented by the Alper Initiative for Washington Art, opened Nov. 10 and closes Dec. 16. Jehle will join curator Laura Roulet to discuss the site-specific installation on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 5:30 p.m.; admission is free, but reservations are required. The Alper gallery space is part of the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, which is across from the university’s main entrance at 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.