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small & large works - Nov. 2012

“Small Works” and “Large Works”
November 7–December 3, 2012

Reception: Thursday, November 8, 2012, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Award winners from “Small Works” and “Large Works.”

“Small Works”

Juried by Lindsay Harris (
click to view the juror's dialogue, below)
Click here for a PDF list of accepted pieces and award winners, or view the exhibit on Flickr.

“Large Works”

Juried by John Figura (
click to view the juror's dialogue, below)
Click here for a PDF list of accepted pieces and award winners, or view the exhibit on Flickr.

“Small Works”
Juried by Lindsay Harris
Juror’s dialogue with George Miller

Lindsay Harris, juror for “Small Works,” had a lot of decisions to make to winnow down almost 500 submitted pieces to the 126 on the walls. 

Her first criterion was necessarily subjective: an instinctual judgment about the work and whether it was “eye-catching” in terms of its composition, color, and clarity of execution. Because of the high quality all around, such decisions weren’t easy, Harris said. Other considerations included subject matter and mastery of craft: many accepted pieces were examples of simple, humble subjects rendered precious through art. In terms of mastery of craft, successful artists demonstrated that they understood the qualities of their particular medium and used those to their advantage.

“It certainly helps to know what you’re doing with the medium you use,” Harris said, and artists generally did.

Some pieces were well suited to the small-format exhibit, which naturally lends itself to detailed works, Harris said. Watercolors and prints, for example, showed a lot of care devoted to the small space. Still lifes of small objects, like radishes or M&Ms, fit well in the exhibit, while abstract works faced more of an uphill struggle to succeed in a small format. Other subjects, like figures, likewise appear less frequently in the exhibit, perhaps for the same reason.

Harris said she also looked to a strong sense of line, overall composition, and a harmony of color within the composition while jurying. Watercolors and ink works made impressive use of white space, and it was clear that photographs had strong negatives, producing rich images in terms of tone and composition. Harris said she still struggles with how to judge digital photography edited in Adobe Photoshop — while photography has been manipulated throughout its history, it’s more difficult to distinguish successful digital manipulation, she said, citing issues such as color saturation.

Compared to successful pieces, works that fell short suffered from a muddiness or overworking of the original colors, from compositions that were too familiar, or from indecision  about color palette or between representation and abstraction. Harris stressed that works had a lot of different strengths, and a lot of deliberation went into her choices. As someone who has studied art herself, Harris said she understood what artists were up against. She first took drawing and painting classes as a child, moving on to photography as a teenager, which as been her focus since even as she has dabbled in other media such as watercolor and oil.

In terms of presentation, Harris echoed past jurors in saying that simpler framing is better. The mat and frame are for protecting the work and giving it breathing space on the wall, not for enhancing it.

Harris awarded prizes to three works from the Eleanor Boudreau Jordan Award, with first prize going to Rock Creek Park, a palladium contact print by DeDe Faller. Harris said of seeing the photographic process — once used by greats such as Alfred Stieglitz and Irving Penn, but now rare — “it warmed my heart.” The print has both softness and rich detail, and a beautiful range of grays, she said. The leaves and water in the image are legible despite the “ethereal, atmospheric quality” of the work as a whole.

Tiny Treats by Alice Kale, a watercolor still life of a bag of M&Ms, was selected for second prize. Harris said the artist showed mastery of an unforgiving medium, with the “whimsy and joyfulness” of the subject matter elevated by the painter’s skill.

Another watercolor, Trail Ride by Rana Geralis, was awarded third prize. Geralis also had a strong command of watercolor, Harris said, citing the dark, saturated background with light shining through the horses and figures. The strong contrast between foreground and background packed “a real punch” on a gut level, she said.

Lindsay Harris is an art historian who specializes in photography and Italian modern art and architecture. A native Washingtonian, she earned her Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University with the dissertation, “Picturing the ‘Primitive’: Photography, Architecture, and the Construction of Italian Modernism, 1911-1936”. Her research focuses on the ways in which photographs both document and shape the emerging modern landscape in the 19th and 20th centuries. She has received several awards for her scholarship in the history of photography, including an outstanding dissertation prize from the Institute of Fine Arts and The Joan and Stanford Alexander Award from The Museum of Fine Arts Houston. She has designed and taught courses in modern and contemporary art, architecture, and museum studies at New York University, Northeastern University School of Architecture in Rome, and, most recently, Amherst College, where she held a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Art and the History of Art. She currently works in the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

“Large Works” — November 2012
Juried by John Figura
Juror’s Dialogue with Erica Fortwengler

As a new juror to The Art League, artist and educator John Figura had the task of selecting the Large Works exhibit, which complements and contrasts its smaller counterpart, the Small Works exhibit (juried by Lindsay Harris), for November 2012.  

“I was impressed with the quality of the work overall. If it hadn’t been for space restrictions, I would have included more pieces in the exhibit,” commented Figura.

Of the 213 pieces submitted, Figura was able to curate the show down to 33 strong works. Figura was looking for virtuosity of medium, form, interesting use of color, shape, skill (relative to intent), and content. Above all, he was looking to see how, and if, the artist’s vision was achieved.

Many of the pieces that were not included were “lacking intent and vision” according to Figura. Like so many of our previous jurors, Figura stressed the importance of the artist’s unique vision in a successful work, and he evaluated how the choice and use of media serviced that intent.

It’s important for an artist to consider the impact of a piece, and to be aware of how their technical choices influence the visual effect. Figura noted that the size of brush strokes should be relative to the size of the canvas – larger surfaces can handle larger, sweeping brushwork while smaller surfaces cannot.

In regard to presentation, Figura felt that the framing overall was good; noting that he personally prefers very simple framing or no frame at all. He remarked that several pieces were in need of a coat of varnish to “finish them off.”

Figura selected Marina Troy’s Pine Trees as the recipient of the Cora Rupp Award. Figura was drawn to its large scale, the physicality demonstrated in the paint application, the use of paint, and the action in the painting.

John Figura is a Washington, DC area painter. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a BFA in 1977 and an MFA in painting in 1981. He has had numerous solo exhibitions and has been included in many group exhibitions in the Washington, DC area and beyond. His most recent solo exhibition was in October 2012 at MOCA in Georgetown. He served as gallery director of Anton Gallery for over 10 years, and was later one of the managing partners/ gallery directors of Signal 66 from 2000 until that space closed in 2004. He has taught throughout the DC area at Northern Virginia Community College, George Mason University, Marymount University, Virginia Commonwealth University’s off campus program, and currently teaches at The Catholic University of America.



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