Art and the City – October 2017

48”x48”, acrylic on canvas. Photo: Tory Cowles

Spontaneity. It’s all about action and reaction. Tory Cowles turns visual ideas loose on the canvas. She lets her hand and eye reach back into the intellectual and emotional swirl we call consciousness and sets them free.

There are no preliminary drawings. Actually, there is no plan at all. Colors, textures, and shapes move about, talking to each other and enjoying themselves immensely. The reds, blacks, and yellows can be bold and boisterous while blue-grays and violets are subtle and supportive. Paint and fabrics share the space, and visual exchanges evolve through various stages of anarchy and chaos until they settle into compositions.

Tory doesn’t stop there. She continues to add paints and fabrics “in a stream of consciousness.” Colors and forms, lines and textures continue the conversation. At some point it just feels done. She does several at the same time, but not as a set or series. “They go their own way – growing at their own rates, like kids.”

The daughter of an architect and a sculptor, Tory has always been making art and building things. Her first art was three-dimensional. She turned to abstract expressionism about 25 years ago.

She is again including 3-D work. Her sculpture has the same freedom of expression as her paintings, but it requires construction and perhaps more contemplation. Her husband, a farmer, gives her machinery parts, and “other people are always bringing me stuff,” from fabrics to sheet metal to curious odds and ends.

Tory is a 1972 graduate of Bennington College. She became a carpenter, renovating buildings in the DC area. She “loved making a building new within the old.”

You can find her work in numerous collections, and she has shown in galleries throughout the country. She displays and sells her work permanently in the Torpedo Factory, Studio 7, in Alexandria,

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
“Hey, I could do that. My 10-year-old can do that.”

“No, you can’t, and no, she can’t.”

acrylic on canvas, 60”x60”, Photo: Tory Cowles

I often have those conversations with visitors in galleries. They see an abstract painting and think it is simply a matter of smearing colors around.

Abstract art at its best is pure painting. It’s the arrangement of color and form just as classical music is the arrangement of pure sound and rhythm. Neither is about “something.” The subject matter is simply paint, and shapes are not intended to be recognized as real objects or places.

Often, it’s just decorative, pleasing, but abstract expressionism is a force of a different color. It expresses ideas and moods. There needs to be an intellectual and emotional connection to you, the viewer.

There is no one formula or approach. Original abstract painters like Wassily Kandinsky began with subject matter, and, combining color, word, and sound, gradually made the subjects less defined – reduced to a variety of expressions and visual puzzles.

Some, like Richard Diebenkorn, created formal compositions, well-thought and executed.

Others, like Tory Cowles, are loose and free. She lets the painting take shape at its own pace. But it doesn’t just happen. It’s very intuitive, an intuition resulting from both formal training and a great deal of accumulated skill.

It takes a practiced eye to control and conduct the whole orchestration of color, form, and line. It takes true talent to turn large areas of black into happy, dancing shapes that share the rhythms of the canvas. It takes skill to bring solid objects of all kinds, shapes, and materials to do more than fill space.

There has to be something that clicks, creates a link to your thoughts and feelings. It has to grab you emotionally and make you think.

It’s a rare 10-year-old who can do all that.

At the Galleries
Hill Center
921 Pennsylvania. Ave. SE
Oct. 5-Dec. 30
Opening reception: Wed., Oct. 11, 7:30-9:00 p.m.
The Hill center fall show is actually a collection of solo shows, six in all. There is a good variety of styles and media: oil painting, photography, monoprints, and collage.

  • French artist Joanathan Bessaci, in “Maps,” selectively cuts maps and rearranges the pieces into portraits and figurative works. He integrates rivers, highways, lakes, parks, and even oceans into elements of the images. He builds multiple levels, with a piece of glass between each to create a sense of depth.
  • Rachael Bohlander is a DC lawyer and artist. In “Art of Empowerment” she expresses her interest in social-justice issues based on photographs taken in the District and while traveling. She uses found materials like newspapers and recycled artwork.
  • Karen Edgett is a resident of Capitol Hill and creative director of an advertising agency. In “Truth,” she seeks the truths – “what is not yet known” – imbedded in a painting.
  • Michael Ford is a filmmaker who recorded everyday community life in Mississippi in his documentary “Homeplace” in 1975. His exhibit “Homeplace” features photographs taken between 1970 and 2010.
  • Judith Peck is an “allegorical figurative artist” who paints haunting metaphors and ever-questioning realities, embedded with “gessoed plaster shards.” She features an individual model to “travel life’s broken path.”
  • Scott Warren travels the world professionally, visiting all the great museums and bringing those exposures into his own paintings – “an important part of who I am.” “Worldviews” is a composite collection of those experiences.

Capitol Hill Art League
545 Seventh St. SE
Oct. 14-Nov. 11
Reception: Sat., Oct. 14, 5-7 p.m.
CHAL opens its first show of the art season with member artists’ interpretations of their summer experiences. The juror is Spencer Dormitzer, director of the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery. Don’t miss the opening with wine, food, and conversation with the artists. It’s free and everyone is welcome.

“The Usual Suspects”
Foundry Gallery
Oct. 4-29
2118 Eighth St. NW
Reception: Oct. 7, 6-9 p.m.
Charlene Nield and Ann Pickett paint individually and, in one work, collaboratively to showcase and contrast their styles and interpretations of abstracted figures. They paint sophisticated color compositions, so the fun challenge is to figure out who painted what in the combined work.

“Magnetic Fields”
The National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave. NW
Oct. 13-Jan. 21
“Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today” is dedicated exclusively to the abstract art of black women artists. It “places the visual vocabularies of these artists in context with one another and within the larger history of abstraction.” It also demonstrates the wide, inclusive range of abstract art and interpretations of universal themes. There are 21 artists represented, and much great work. Don’t miss it.


A Capitol Hill artist and writer, Jim Manger can be reached at His award-winning book, “A Haunting Beauty,” can be acquired through