Lenny

The Trawick Prize

In 2002, the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, a non-profit organization in that Maryland city created The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards, a juried art competition awarding $14,000 in prize monies to contemporary artists in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

The founder, Carol Trawick, is committed to honoring contemporary visual artists with this award. Concerned because in the first few years of the Prize painters were being ignored by the jurors, Ms. Trawick three years into the Prize generously made the same commitment to area painters by creating a separate Bethesda Painting Awards(also funded by Ms. Trawick).

I cannot say enough good things about Ms. Trawick and the fact that in an area dominated by some of the largest and wealthiest corporations in the world, it has been a small business owner who has taken the challenge of ponying up a considerable annual cash prize to recognize an area artist and hopefully place the region on the national fine arts map, is the kind of act that makes one feel good about the generosity of individuals.

Over the years the Trawick Prize has gained momentum and recognition as the top contemporary art prize in the Greater Washington DC region, and some of the area’s premier curators have served as jurors.

In 2004 David Page of Baltimore, MD was the Best in Show winner of $10,000. The next year, Jiha Moon, then of Annandale, Virginia and now residing in Atlanta, Georgia won the top prize. In 2006 James Rieck of Baltimore, Maryland won top honors and last year Jo Smail from Baltimore, won top honors.

Last night I dropped in to Heineman-Myers Contemporary Art in Bethesda (where the show will he held this year) to get a preview and an early first look at the fifteen artists who have been selected as finalists for the 2008 Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards.

The work of these 15 finalists will be on display from September 3 – September 27 and the prize winners will be announced and honored on Wednesday, September 3rd at a special press event held at the gallery. As it is the norm, the Best in Show winner will be awarded $10,000; second place will be honored with $2,000 and third place will be awarded $1,000. A “Young Artist” whose birth date is after April 11, 1978 will also be awarded $1,000.

The entries were juried by Molly Donovan, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art; Irene Hofmann, Executive Director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, MD and Leah Stoddard, former Director of Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA.

Depending on who amongst those three jurors is the “leader of the pack” or the guiding hand for the other, will determine who will win the prize. Five will get you ten that the DC area artists in this show were muscled in by Donovan, Baltimore’s by Hoffman and so on. I’ve been on many “art-by-committee” panels and know how they work. As Jose Marti wrote: “I know the monster well, for I have lived in its entrails.”

This is why it is important for artists to ensure that they are known and their work visible, to their local area curators.

This particular jury committee did a really good job in selecting the 15 finalists. The exhibition is among the best Trawick Prize finalists exhibitions, and it is an crucial mix of art and conceptual ideas, a little play on kitsch themes by a couple of intelligent artists and even a touch of what’s trendy and slicky in the macro art world today.

If Donovan is the leading voice in the jury panel, then I believe that well-known DC artist Maggie Michael will be the winner. I have seen loads of her work and even curated some into past exhibitions. Her entry into this competition is by far the most complex and interesting work of hers that I have seen to date. In the gallery piece by Michael, she has combined all of her previous elements of poured paint, then she peels some of the layers back and nail some of them, with an interesting distressing of the substrate by drilling a big hole in the center and also by adding a graffiti like spraying on the background. I could be off slightly in my guess and Donovan may lead the prize to Maggie’s talented husband, Dan Steinhilber.

If Hoffman is the leader in the panel, then all roads lead to Baltimore’s Tony Shore, whose dark brooding works on black velvet play off a working man’s view of art as an intelligent and creative play on elevating a kitsch substrate to a high art level; the working class’ artist as hero is what Shore is all about.

If Stoddard has the leading voice in the panel, then the prize goes to my good friend and talented artist and blogger from Charlottesville, Virginia Warren Craghead III.

After visiting the show, and after considering in depth the work that I saw, here’s how I would give prizes in this show:
By Joseph Barbaccia
I would give a very good look and consideration to the shiny, elegant and very sexy forms by Joseph Barbaccia, slowly but surely becoming one of the nation’s capital area iconic sculptors. What Barbaccia does to contemporary sculpture is a three dimensional version of what Shore does to painting. They are both using kitsch elements and substrates of the contemporary world to create smart and intelligent works of modern art. Barbaccia’s spectacularly gaudy “Every Man’s Dream” is a glorious achievement of color and sequins and shininess and it is certainly worth of a very close look for the top prize and perhaps setting this artist’s career on an upswing.

Washington’s Molly Springfield is not only one of the nicest persons that you’ll ever meet, but also one of the most amazing talents in the DC area’s art scene, and her technical work is so superbly perfect that we fixate on its tiny imperfections to reassure ourselves of its creation by hand rather than machine. But she goes beyond that and marries her graphite drawings with interesting ideas, concepts and clues about her own sense of growing up and becoming an adult.
Art by Molly Springfield
Molly, at one time or another, has been on almost every finalist’s list for almost every prize in the area for the last few years, and it’s probably due to strike soon.
Painting by Heide Trepanier
Although I am not familiar with Heide Trepanier’s work, there’s something powerful and exciting about the piece illustrated here, which although tends to remind me a little of some earlier Maggie Michael, nonetheless leaps from it in the way that Trepanier has isolated the paint with lines to almost reveal to us Boschian figures and animals and aliens in her work.

My prizewinners would be:

Best in Show: Molly Springfield
Second Place: Joseph Barbaccia
Third Place: Tony Shore

A public reception will be held on Friday, September 12, 2008 from 6-9pm in conjunction with the Bethesda Art Walk. This is easily the best art show in DC this month - don’t miss it!

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton, Part III

Scroll down for part I and II or click here and here.

Day Three, Saturday, July 26

Started the day with another spectacular gourmet breakfast at our “Buckingham Palace of Inns,” and then headed out to the streets to observe the “Quick Draw” event.

Note to self: Next year bring art supplies and sign up for the “Quick Draw.” It looked to be a load of fun!

To recap: The Quick Draw is quite a novel event to bring the art of plein air painting directly to the art lover. In Easton more than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs, etc. had pre-registered and participated. These artists were then given two hours to complete their works within a three block area of the town.

During this short time, all registered Quick Draw participants set up their supplies and paint, draw, or sculpt “en plein air” in downtown Easton, while hundreds of people stroll around and look in and ask questions.

There were artists everywhere in this small Maryland jewel of a town! And they were not just painting the streets and beautiful houses and spaces around them! Painter Scott Powers, a young Chicago artist, was mesmerizing the crowd by delivering a portrait of a gentleman reading a paper in the shade of an Easton cafe. The crowd was hypnotized as Powers delivered a remarkable piece that not only captured the subject’s likeness, but also that key ingredient of great portraiture: the subject’s unique sense of individuality and self. How he managed to do that in two hours was a spectacular feat.

We walked around for the two hours (I got a mean sunburn) and admired both the multitude of artists of all kinds of artistic skill, and also the multitudes of people admiring them.

When the “finish” horn sounded at high noon, artists began filing down to Harrison Street, where they began to set up their easels to display (and sell) their just finished work. The paintings were then judged by Plein Air-Easton! Competition Judge Gay Faulkenberry and awards were presented at 1:30pm. By 2:00pm the exhibit and all of its paintings were gone from the streets of Easton.

Once again I witnessed a near feeding frenzy as paintings were bought almost as soon as they were up on their easels. I would say that within the first five minutes about 50% of all the works had been sold, with works ranging in price from $250 to $2,000. By 2pm nearly all pieces were gone and heading to the home of a new collector.
Quick Draw at Plein Air Easton

Larry Moore from Florida won the top prize at the competition and it was a well-deserved award - he was also my pick for the best piece in the show. I also quite liked Joe Meyer’s light-filled house (it also won an award), and Ken DeWaard’s piece.

My wife and I then went biking around Easton (biking with my wife, who used to be a world-class triathlete before she retired from competition a few years ago, is like playing chess with Bobby Fisher) and then back to the Inn to get ready for my talk at the museum at 7PM.

My talk had been advertised as a “new signature event that will embody Plein Air-Easton’s slogan ‘Art for Everyone.’ Campello, a respected artist and art critic with a flair for engaging his audiences with humor, will give a short history of art and discuss the knack of art collecting. This event will not be boring. Cocktails will be served and attendees can mingle and view the competition galleries. Seating is limited but Campello’s wit and wisdom can be heard throughout the Academy” and sort of like Richard Pryor once said, I thought to myself as I walked to the museum: “I better be funny.”

The room was packed, with maybe 150-200 people, and I had expected to talk for about an hour as I gave them a little background on art history and then discussed collecting art and other associated issues.

The audience was really good and I didn’t notice anyone falling asleep or leaving, and so when I glanced at my watch, and noticed that I had been talking for nearly two hours I was dumbfounded by both my ability to just talk and talk about art and by the audience’s resistance!

So I ended it (I could have talked another hour, but I took pity on them), and surprisingly quite a few people came over and started asking questions and I spent another 20 minutes or so answering them… so I think that it went OK.

My apologies for those who were late for other things because of my Castro-like performance.

Next: the last day at Easton, with Winners Paint-Out and Brunch at Rich Neck Manor.

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Lenny

Plein Air Easton - Part I

Day One, July 24, 2008
Sometimes writers are challenged on how best to begin to describe an event, in this case Plein Air Easton, which at first seems just focused on the re-emerging art of painting outside of the studio, but when examined in depth has grown to become not only very good at that, but also - on a wider scale - very good for art, for artists, for collectors, and for a picturesque little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

I had never been to Easton, Maryland before our arrival on a Thursday, July 24, as I had been invited to be a guest speaker as part of the 2008 Plein Air Easton festival. We decided to arrive a couple of days early, to soak in the whole experience of a little town taken over by a bunch of artists painting out in its streets and countryside.

Our hosts had put us in at the Inn at 202 Dover, and I must admit that even for an experienced traveler such as I am, I was floored by the beauty, authenticity and elegance of this gorgeous 19th century historical house, recently refurbished and brought to spectacular modern glory by owners Shelby and Ron Mitchell.

The place is breath-taking and the love of the Mitchell’s for their inn is apparent in the care and expense that they took to restore it.

Restoration began in 2005, not only under the watchful eyes of the owners, but also of Historic Easton, the State of Maryland, the Easton’s Historic Commission, and the Department of Interior. Today the beautiful colonial revval building and gardens boasts four elegant suites and one luxury en suite bedroom, each themed and decorated accordingly. The Mitchells like the Victorian approach to decor, and invoking the Victorian era, the suites have an international flavor in keeping with the Victorian concept of what was exotic to them. Arrivals can expect to choose among France, Asia, England and Africa (Safari) suites or, the Victorian bedroom.

We were given the Asian suite, which was larger than most New York apartments — in fact I think it was larger than the Brooklyn apartment in which I was raised. In addition to a beautiful huge bamboo canopy bed and Asian furniture, I loved the antique puppets and the original Ukiyo-e woodblocks on the walls.
inn at 202 dover
And the steam shower, and the cool air jet tub with the golden dragon spitting high pressure water, the fireplace, and the high definition flat screen TV with satellite TV - located… ahem… in the sitting room within our room.

And free high speed internet access.

But enough about this gorgeous place; suffice it to say that if you visit Easton, and want it to be a super special visit, this is the only place in town that will be a memorable stay! It gets a hundred stars and a thousand thumbs up from my wife and I.

At 5:30PM on our first day we hung around for happy hour at the inn… and it didn’t disappoint, as Jorge Alvarez, the Inn’s Cuban-born chef popped in with some tasty food, which included what can be best described as my first exposure of the delicious results what happens when Southern cooking (let’s say fritters) meets Cuban food (let’s say WOW!).

Afterwards we walked over to a local Easton restaurant called … ah… Restaurant Local, where we had some good happy hour vittles (Shrimp Fajitas and Calamari) on their sidewalk tables, listening to a local dude play the guitar, and you won’t believe this: a $5 pitcher of beer in a fancy restaurant! It was great, although we did have to teach our young Russian waiter what “seltzer water” was.

We walked around town and saw several artists painting out on the streets, although it seems most of the 2008 artists were out in the gorgeous countryside. We also scoped out a couple of the town’s art galleries - more on that later, but overall the first afternoon and night was just an opportunity to walk around Easton, see a few galleries and a few artists here and there.

Tomorrow the judging begins!

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