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.