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Art and the City

You find yourself in the picture, “Hardware River Aqueduct.” You’re drawn in—but you’re not sure why. Is it the familiar: a stone bridge over peaceful waters? Is it the close-to-perfection craftsmanship in both the stonework of the structure and the artistry of the woodcut?

Maybe it goes beyond that. Maybe it’s because the scene is timeless. It so firmly occupies a span of human evolution—the love of and desperation for water. It’s a connection that reaches across the ages and triggers the genetic imprint of a billion minds.

Photo credit: S. Trumbauer

Alexander Gray grew up drawing and like many artists, focused more on art than other subjects. Like most of us, he is drawn to water, flowing water, and the structures that bridge it…especially those from the 1830s to the 1850s.

We are also drawn to his work just because it is good. Very good. The placement of contrasting lights and intense darks give it an internal strength and keeps your eye moving throughout the composition. The artistry extends to all the elements of the scene, moving through interchanging shades of gray and interlocking motifs.

“Hardware River Aqueduct” won first place in the current Hill Center show (see: At the Galleries) It’s a woodcut, but he is “leaning more to engraving” in his newer work.

Alex grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and graduated from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in 2007. He worked a series of jobs he found “unsatisfying” and “didn’t pursue my art seriously.” However, beginning in July 2013, Alex became a full-time artist, was accepted as a member of Printmakers Inc. and has a studio at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA.

He spends much of his time exploring the mid-Atlantic region for scenes that take us not just to water, but to those places that trigger the genetic imprint of a billion minds.


Hardware River Aqueduct II. Woodcut. 2014-2017. Credit: Samantha Shelton

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
I have often wondered why the art from the European Renaissance is so damn good. How did the artists develop those incredible skill levels? Didn’t they have to work—a day job maybe?

No. Art, painting and sculpture, was the job. It’s what they did every day, their whole lives. They came mostly from artist families and if they showed early promise they could be apprenticed to master’s studio. If they displayed extraordinary talent they were adopted by a patron, such as the De Medici gang. Patrons were very rich people who splurged their often ill-gotten gains on the arts. (Too bad the same is rarely true today.)

This type of patronage was worldwide. In addition to the grand families, there were the great religions…Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist…which made their grand cathedrals, mosques and temples even more majestic with scrumptious if sometimes morbid paintings, sculptures and mosaics. And don’t forget the various kings, queens, pharaohs and emperors. Yes, they got to dictate the subject matter, usually themselves, but the standards were high—they understood quality and artistry. Patronage was the tide that raised all boats.

Too bad it petered out in the mid-1800s and age of the “Starving Artist” was born. But maybe art is better off. It’s more democratic, with freedom to explore…to find personal expression…or redundant mediocrity. But through all this unfettered exploration and envelope pushing, the upscale arts lost contact with the proletariat, the public. There’s not much middle ground. Art buys are now mostly under a thousand, or over a million.

But wait! Patronage has reappeared online. You can be a patron of a favored artist without wearing a crown. Check this out: Patreon.com. It’s crowd funding.

Alexander Gray (See: Artist Profile) has a site: www.patreon.com/MAGarts. Go to it and sign up. You and others can help keep him a full-time artist, like those grandees of the Renaissance.

At the Galleries
Hill Center Galleries
921 Pennsylvania. Ave. SE
–September 22
This is the annual Hill Center Galleries Regional Juried Exhibition of over 100 artists from DC, Virginia and Maryland. Three cash awards, plus five honorable mentions were awarded. You will find a terrific variety and quality of work. Alexander Gray (See: Artist Profile) won the $1000 first place prize.

“Winners Circle”
545 7th St. SE
– Aug, 18
This Capitol Hill Art League summer show, “Winners Circle”, features CHAW members who have received awards during the 2017-18 Art League season: JoAnn Laboy, Karen Cohen, Rindy O’Brien, Kay Fuller, Ken Bachman, Tara Hamilton, Ann Thomson, Karen Zens, Marcel Taylor, Sally Canzoneri, Ann Pickett, Jane Mann, Kim Bursic, Jim Huttinger and Meera Rao.

“Journey to Yuki’s World”
Touchstone Gallery
901 New York Ave, NW
August 4 – 31
Reception: Sat., Aug. 4, 3 – 4:30
Yuki Hiyama suffered a brain injury at birth. She communicates only through art: “raw, gestural abstraction.” And communicate she does. These reach not only your heart, but all of your sensory receptors.

Malgorzata Jablonska
Foundry Gallery
2118 – 8th St, N.W.
– September 2, 2018
Reception:  Sat, Aug 4,  6 – 10
Artist’s talk:  Wed, Aug 8, 7:30
“Imprints of Reality” is the Polish artist’s first solo exhibit in the U.S. She uses a wide variety of natural and other materials to craft masks—face and full body. Foundry’s Jay Peterzell says, “We feel vividly the presence of the absent person inside.”

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