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Big Art, Small Spaces

Find Emerging and Traditional Art in Area Galleries

Spring is a season of fresh beginnings — time to rethink the decor of your apartment or develop a more sophisticated cultural acumen. That said, the Capitol Hill area and its environs are home to a number of art galleries — from the quirky to the traditional — that can help set you well on your way to accomplishing both goals.

Here’s a look at the scene at some of the galleries Roll Call surveyed.

The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop gallery
545 Seventh St. SE
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday; 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

In the spirit of the city’s six-month celebration of all things Shakespeare, the gallery at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, located just a block from Barracks Row in a colonial and Greek revival building that once housed a school, is in the midst of a run of shows with Bard-related themes. Already artists have burned through plays such as “Much Ado About Nothing,” “As You Like It” and “The Tempest.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Run by the Capitol Hill Art League, the gallery features about seven juried shows throughout the year, said CHAW’s Megan Cheek. Artists who wish to be considered for inclusion in the shows must be a member of the league. There also are a handful of non-juried shows. (In addition to the gallery, CHAW offers art classes for all levels as well as dance and theater experiences.)

This month the gallery is showcasing “A Comedy of Errors,” with several of the pieces on view illustrating a quote from the play. Among the highlights are David Evelyn’s Joseph Cornell-style box constructions, including “He told his mind upon my ear,” which features a tiny bust of Mozart, a cupid, toy cats and cut-up CDs. Then there’s Roberta Glick’s mixed-media collage of nude females ironically titled “Women speak two languages, one of which is verbal.” And don’t miss Valentine Szybko’s Mark Rothko-esque colored canvas with its bands of red, orange, purple and gold in “My woes end likewise with the evening sun.” The gallery’s Shakespearean run will conclude after May’s show, which fittingly is titled “All’s Well That Ends Well” and opens May 12 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. that evening.

Galerie Myrtis
500 Ninth St. SE
Hours: By appointment Tuesday and Wednesday; 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
If you didn’t know better and you happened to be walking by, you might think the three-story Italian Renaissance house on Ninth Street Southeast located just behind the Old Naval Hospital was just another slightly run-down, historic private residence.

To bypass it would be a mistake, however.

Inside the walls of the 1848 structure is a law firm, as well as a gallery owned by art consultant Myrtis Bedolla, who opened her eponymous space there last fall.

Bedolla’s relationship to the building dates back to the l980s when she served as an assistant curator for the now-defunct Galerie 500, which was then housed there. When building owner, lawyer Lawrence Harbin, (who had run Galerie 500), invited her back to open the new gallery, Bedolla jumped at the chance. Galerie Myrtis represents emerging to mid-career artists — painters, photographers and sculptors — who hail from locales including Upper Marlboro, Md., and South Africa, in a quirky space that mingles boardroom furniture with paintings. (Bedolla, who has a business and marketing background, has spent time studying the art of South Africa and Zimbabwe and currently is writing a book about female sculptors in Zimbabwe. She also operates Creative Artisans, which helps market the creative output of African women.)

Until April 29, the gallery is featuring local artist Calvin Coleman’s magnificent exhibit “The Prince of Peace,” which includes four biblically inspired series of textured paintings depicting men and women’s relationship to God. Many of the canvases represent verses from Psalms or Proverbs, the words of which can be seen peeking through the paint, paper, cloth and burlap that Coleman uses in his works. Also on display are a handful of Coleman’s Matisse-invoking abstract florals and vibrant cityscapes.

Next up: Laurie Monblatt’s mixed-media geometric-style paintings on board, which go on display May 11 (the opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. that night). And in August, a show of mainly D.C.-area emerging artists is planned.

Market 5 Gallery
201 Seventh St. SE
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 8 a.m. to at least 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Suspended from the rafters of the cavernous Market 5 Gallery are plaster creations representing the continents from which Eastern Market’s vendors hail.

It’s a fitting nod to the gallery’s setting in the North Hall of the historic, 19th-century Eastern Market on Seventh Street Southeast.

The gallery has been in the business of featuring emerging and professional local artists since 1973, the year its executive director, John Harrod, and others approached District officials and asked them “to give us” the space, which at the time was being used for storage.

“They just giggled,” recalled Harrod, now 63, who runs the gallery from a makeshift office behind a wall in the exhibit space. In addition to its cold concrete floors, the space, he noted, lacked heat and running water.

More than three decades later, its stripped-down aesthetic hasn’t changed, nor has its commitment to nurturing the arts. It puts on about nine exhibits each year, he said.

A recent stroll through the one-room space turned up a smattering of water colors, abstract acrylics, carved mahogany wall hangings and a fabric artist’s quilted creations. Of particular note were the artist Sulaymaan’s series of large, mixed-media, collage-style portraits of black icons such as Malcolm X and Ray Charles.

The gallery’s low-key atmosphere extends to the presentation, where artists’ business cards from their day jobs are sometimes tacked next to their works in lieu of wall labels. The current exhibit includes works by a local astrologer and someone who runs a moving service.

And it’s hardly just a gallery.

Dance classes meet here on Wednesday and Thursday nights. A full-size stage on one end of the room is the setting for local theater and musical productions (“Dream Girls” plays here at 8 p.m. April 20-23), while during the day on Saturdays the gallery’s indoor and outdoor space is taken over by craft fair vendors and on Sundays by a flea market. And even the pols have discovered the gallery’s allures as a cheap and convenient locale for fundraisers. “You almost name any Congressman and we’ve had them at one time or another,” said Harrod, rattling off a list that included Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). (The gallery, which has been involved in numerous legal disputes with the city over the years on the use of the space, is again in a tenuous position. Eastern Market Venture, which leases the building from the city, has put out a request for proposals for the operation of the activities now held in the gallery’s indoor and outdoor space.)

Coming up: On April 25, a new exhibit featuring the creative output of the students of the Peabody Elementary School will go up. Most of the work will be by 4- and 6-year-olds. “They are emerging artists,” Harrod quipped. “Very emerging.”

britishink tattoo studio and gallery
508 H St. NE
Hours: By appointment only until April 30; Beginning April 30, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
It isn’t every day that a gallery owner asks if you want to see a nude photo of his wife.

But then English-born Paul Roe’s britishink tattoo studio and gallery on H Street Northeast is hardly your orthodox exhibit space. Just off the gallery rooms are three upscale tattoo studios, where Roe and his two-person staff create their own skin-based art on clients.

“It’s all, in my consideration, fine art,” said Roe, who studied fashion design in England before permanently moving to the United States 15 years ago after meeting his American wife, Regina Fantucci, through the City Paper while on vacation here.

After stints as a graphic designer and as the headwaiter and assistant sommelier at the St. Regis Hotel’s old Lespinasse Restaurant, Roe decided to take up tattoo. For the past four years, he’s operated out of a private studio in Northeast Washington performing his art on everyone from lobbyists to Congressmen, he said.

The red-walled gallery and tattoo studio, which set up shop at the beginning of March, is open by appointment only until its official unveiling April 30. (Roe will mark the occasion with a reception that day from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring tea and the artists whose work is on display.)

Roe, who said he will rotate out the art every four to six weeks, kicks off his gallery with a group show featuring Dana Ellyn’s cryptic and sardonic portraits of everyone from a blind boy to a heavily pregnant suburban Madonna-esque teenager; black and white photographs by Angela Kleis and Min Enghauser; and painter David Michael Conner’s stunning renderings of city streets and psychedelic dwellings. There’s also a wall of flash (stock tattoo images), which includes several of Roe’s own designs (he also makes some of his own tattoo machines), as well as a mixed-media portrait of the late punk rocker Sid Vicious by Roe.

Once things get going, Roe, 39, has an ambitious vision for the intersection of traditional art and tattoo — “the primal parent of the visual arts,” he asserted. He plans to give lectures this summer up the street at Dissident Display Studio and Gallery on the relationship between tattoo and modern design and to bring in photographers, filmmakers and even a portrait painter to capture the tattooing process, the product of which will later go on display. He’s also working to create a tattoo sleeve based on a painting by artist Matt Sesow (Ellyn’s boyfriend), which he will transfer to the arm of a local drummer. Eventually, he said, both the panoramic photos of the drummer’s arm and the painting will hang side by side in his gallery. The studio also has been asked to participate in this summer’s Capital Fringe Festival, an off-beat D.C. arts festival.

As for that naked picture of his wife?

He whips out his business card, which features his bare-backed wife, a policy analyst at the Government Accountability Office, displaying some of his art work: an enormous tattoo of a peacock whose colorful feathers artfully extend to her buttocks.

Dissident Display Studio and Gallery
416 H St. NE
Hours: By appointment only
Adrian Loving, co-owner of Dissident Display Studio and Gallery, which opened on a still-depressed strip of H Street Northeast in January, proudly noted that his is the only art gallery in Washington, D.C., to boast a suspended DJ booth. This comes in handy, considering the gallery’s plywood floors are prone to vibrate during some of its more raucous hip-hop and dance-style exhibit-closing parties (the next one is April 27 beginning at 10 p.m.). Loving, who is quick to note that such parties don’t take place until the art is off the walls and that the the openings are decidedly more chill, also happens to be a DJ who often performs with the art collective Aphrodizia at local nightspots (you can catch them live at Lotus Lounge on April 21).

Dissident Display features a narrow, white-walled gallery space on its first floor and a design studio upstairs, where Loving, a Howard University graduate who also has done design work for BET and the Smithsonian Institution, works on projects such as a Hindu Goddess-themed video installation for the restaurant and bar IndeBleu with his creative partners Ayodamola Okunseinde and Eric Brewer. The studio also is participating in the ColorField.remix celebration with a work at Viridian on display until May 5. Through April 22, Dissident Display’s gallery is showcasing Jati Lindsay’s black and white photos of U Street nightlife over the past decade — its clubs, restaurants and people. “Things that are disappearing over time,” Loving said. Also on view are Steven Cummings’ artsy, yet graphic, gelatin silver prints of D.C. strippers.

Beginning in early May, the gallery will host “It’s Pop — It’s Pulp,” a show of pop-surrealistic paintings and drawings incorporating pulp magazine covers and comic book art by artists Brad Ulreich and Brian Leo.

Touchstone Gallery
406 Seventh St. NW, Second Floor
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
As one of the city’s oldest artistic co-operatives, Touchstone Gallery offers a diverse menu of art from the roughly 30 D.C.-area artists who share in its ownership.

“It’s like a club,” said Touchstone’s Katie Rasmussen. “Members make the decision on new members by voting.”

That said, the chic main gallery space, with its white walls and exposed pipes, is reserved for two single-person shows by gallery artists.

On view until May 6 is Mary Ott’s screenprints and polymer intaglios — which capture the allures of “Old Europe” from Prague’s expansive Charles Bridge to the quaint windows of Dresden, Germany — and the abstract work of painter Melissa Widerkehr.

Widerkehr, a conference planner by day, creates self-described “nice dysfunctional paintings” that depict angular human forms and faces confronting a variety of emotions from “Feeling Naked in Public Waiting for the Bouquet” (based on her own experiences as a middle-aged single woman at weddings) to “She only had herself to blame,” which features a scolding Siamese-style head. Then there’s her diminutive, 5-inch-square paintings of “screaming heads” that were produced after hearing the news last fall that a close friend was going to die from colon cancer.

The friend in question, who passed away just a few days before the show opened last week, is invoked in a poignant canvas that depicts the ravages of chemotherapy on a bald woman cringing at the sight of her wig.

Touchstone’s back rooms include an ever-changing group show as well as an annex where a non-member artist may rent space. On view there until May 6 is the abstract work of Maria Schmidt, a 21-year-old German au pair who grew up near Leipzig, “where they build the Porsche.” Schmidt, a stunning blonde who paints “when sad, when I have problems,” offers a collection of brightly colored canvases adorned with squiggly paint formations — the sort of work perfect for sprucing up the walls of a nursery.

Finally, the gallery also is host to a privately owned shop — Upstairs on 7th — where you can pick up the sort of funky jewelry and free-flowing bohemian attire one might wear to an art opening. The opening for the current show already has passed, but not to worry. The gallery will hold another reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

Civilian Art Projects
406 Seventh St. NW, Third Floor
Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and by appointment
Step inside one of Washington’s newest galleries, Civilian Art Projects, and you might be struck by a slightly eery feeling.

The goal, said the gallery’s associate director Brigitte Reyes, is for the space to be “a little bit more on the cutting edge of artistic expression.”

On April 21 the fledgling gallery, which opened at the beginning of March after previously existing as a roving gallery, will close two photography exhibits: Jason Falchook’s “Contours & Detours,” featuring large, color saturated images of outdoor lighting illuminating high-rises, alleys, overpasses and parking lots; and Jason Zimmerman’s “Natural Acts,” a series of close-up shots of everything from detritus to a dead bird.

Next up, the gallery will host New Jersey conceptual artist Hasan Elahi’s “Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project.” The Bangladesh-born Elahi, an American citizen who in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was reported as a possible terrorist, has been subject to detention by the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service and interrogations by the FBI. As a result, Elahi, who will take part in this summer’s Venice Biennale, has become obsessed with his own location at any given time (he wears a tracking device that transmits his surroundings to his Web site). The show will feature a photo installation of his various whereabouts, a wall diagram of “all the airports he’s slept in” and “two videos of his daily travels,” said Jayme McClellan, the gallery’s director. “He takes a photo every couple of hours of where he is,” she noted.

Elahi’s show (along with new paintings by Nilay Lawson) opens April 27, with a reception from 8 to 10 p.m. that evening.

Zenith Gallery
413 Seventh St. NW
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Step inside Zenith Gallery on a warm spring night and you’ll have a hard time missing its energetic longtime director Margery Goldberg, a 56-year-old woman with a mop of purple and copper-colored hair who isn’t shy about chatting up visitors about their jobs and hometowns.

Goldberg, a George Washington University graduate who founded the gallery 29 years ago, currently is marking the anniversary with “29 Artists — 29 Years,” an eclectic show featuring everything from her own birch marionettes to the fetching pinafore sculptures (made out of old gas and coffee cans) of Donna McCullough. (Through its affiliated nonprofit, Zenith Community Arts Foundation, the gallery also undertakes charitable projects such as raising money for the Capital Area Food Bank, which it is doing this year through the sale of its “Food Glorious Food: Just Desserts” calendar featuring the work of artists it represents.)

After the anniversary show closes on April 29, Virginia-based artist Bradley Stevens’ “What Remains: The American Landscape” opens May 4 (with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m.). It includes realistic renderings of bucolic settings like inflorescent mustard fields and solitary barns. Stevens will be on hand May 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. to discuss his work.

Douz and Mille
A gallery without walls temporarily exhibiting in the old Numark Gallery
625-627 E St. NW
Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
The roving gallery Douz and Mille, which is run by Rody Douzoglou, a former economist from Venezuela, sets up shop for the month of April in the old Numark Gallery with Chilean artist Tomás Rivas’ city-appropriate exhibit, “Left to My Own Devices.” (Numark closed in January and is in the process of transforming itself into an art advising company.)

Among the show’s highlights are several carvings of classical architectural elements — such as rosettes and Corinthian pillars — on 4-foot-square drywall panels. Such styles “have been misappropriated to show power,” asserted Douzoglou, noting their ubiquity on the Washington landscape. One visitor, she said, had “walked in the door and said, ‘This is so Washington.’”

Rivas’ works also experiment with pastillage (a type of hard sugar frosting used to decorate cakes, the recipe for which was created by his pastry chef wife) to create sculptures that invoke the flowing lines of ancient Greek robes, which he forms by draping the pastillage on mannequins to create a mold.

“It is edible,” Douzoglou laughed. “If handled with care there’s no reason why” it shouldn’t last “unless you have insects.”

The gallery at Flashpoint
916 G St. NW
Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment
In the mid-1990s when downtown’s Penn Quarter began its transformation into a high-end dining and entertainment center, many galleries and private artists’ studios closed their doors, the victims of higher rents and redevelopment.

Enter the nonprofit Cultural Development Corp., formed to ensure the neighborhood retained a vibrant artistic presence.

One of its projects — Flashpoint — offers a multidisciplinary artistic space, which features an art gallery, a black box theater, a dance studio and the offices of several arts organizations. (A deal was even struck with the developer of the Mather Building, where Flashpoint is located less than a block from the National Portrait Gallery, for a dozen of the upstairs condos to be set aside for artists at below market value.)

Flashpoint Gallery Manager Rebecca Lowery said the gallery usually shows work by emerging artists “from the D.C. region” and mid-career artists “experimenting with new art forms,” a category Janis Goodman and her graphite drawings of “water or watery spaces” (on view until April 21) certainly falls into. Goodman photographs or films such motions as throwing pebbles into water or “taking a stick and making a drawing in the mud,” Lowery said. Her resulting images are then derived from the ripples or patterns such actions create.

On April 27, the gallery, which has been in existence since 2003, will unveil “Penumbra,” a collaborative show between artists Megan Jacobs and Anna Westfall, who, Lowery said, use everything from video to glass and porcelain to explore “the nature of memory and how our memories are created and changed.” The opening reception will be from 6 to 8 p.m. that evening.

Finally, astute art collectors will have the chance to pick up a bargain when the gallery hosts the Washington Project for the Arts’ show of 100, 2-square-foot anonymous paintings — by a range of artists from college students to established professionals — each priced at $500. “You might be getting a real deal,” Lowery said, though you won’t know the name of the artist until after you buy. The show — on view from June 7 to 23 — is curated by 10 artists, who are then invited to ask nine other artists to participate.

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