Members-only art show makes for RAP attention
Aug. 3, 2005
Karen Schafer
Staff Writer

Submitted photo

Using frayed edged and abstract forms, Dominie Nash takes quilting to another level in "Stills From A Life 25," which measures 41 by 61 inches.

After just a few months as director of exhibitions and programs at Rockville Arts Place (RAP), Harriet Lesser already has juried what she considers "the most difficult" type of art show. Her 20 years of curating experience had armed her with the knowledge that a members-only exhibition -- with its "limited pool" of artists -- would be a challenge.

Fortunately, the caliber of the artwork pleasantly surprised Lesser. The self-described "curator/artist/

teacher" whittled down some 25 entries to an exhibit of 19 artists. From the start, her goal was to bring together a satisfying mix of abstract and representational works. And she succeeded in creating a fascinating exhibit on view through Aug. 20 at RAP in Gaithersburg -- not withstanding its innocuous title "Inspired by the Six Senses."

A taste of four of the featured artists follows.

Shear elegance

Mary D. Ott's three paintings pay homage to grass, but not that uptight turf Americans meticulously shear to sterile perfection. The Silver Spring artist produced a series of paintings that explore the way this groundcover was meant to grow: tall, wire-thin and in mass.

If nothing else, it takes patience and a steady hand to create these languid lines. Using embroidery thread, Ott dips the material into acrylic paint, then drags it down the canvas. The process may sound terribly tedious, but with its neutral backgrounds, the technique produces a soothing image that highlights and perhaps transcends the eponymous subject matter.

For the artist, experimenting with natural objects began one winter while observing the thousands of seedpods decorating a tulip poplar tree.

"I realized they were so beautiful," Ott recalls.

Using a string of superlatives, Lesser agrees. These three canvases, she says, are "beautiful, fascinating, simple, accessible and long lasting."

Infinity and beyond

"Subtle color and a strong design sense" are what attracted Lesser to Shanthi Chandra-Sekar's painting of the earth.

Fascinated with the idea of infinity, the self-taught North Potomac painter, who holds degrees in physics and psychology, depicts the earth as a thin spiraling line that radiates some three by four feet. The artist chose to forego using stretchers or a frame.

"If I framed or stretched it, there would be an end," she explains.

Instead, the spiral painting hangs and appears to billow in the wind.

Although her work is clearly aesthetically appealing, Chandra-Sekar wants it to "be more than a beautiful abstraction. It must be a meaningful interpretation or it gets to be decorator art. I need to look deeper and make someone else feel."

Blue period

The viewer can't help but gravitate to Ellen Sherfey's portrait of a man with a blue face. In fact, she never planned to approach her subject this way, but when she recalls noticing the "glint in the model's eyes and a pair of blue jeans," she was inspired.

The multiple shades of blue were not what won over Lesser. While the curator sees plenty of paintings with unusual color palates she contends that what makes "My Blue Eyes" stand out it that the artist "managed to make the portrait look monumental and keep it in a small format".

After years of producing representational landscapes and figures, Sherfey is now making work that is "colorful and more interpretative, instead of wanting to copy what I see."

Controversial quilter

Quilter Dominie Nash doesn't want to copy anyone, either. In fact, the Bethesda artist has taken some heat from other quilters for her signature frayed edges.

Since taking up quilting some 20 years ago, she found producing design appliqués impossible.

"It's too precise," she explains.

Rather, she opted to loosen the medium a bit. Working abstractly, Nash creates still lifes of everyday objects.

Lesser "loves this piece," and was thrilled that the "well-known artist put her work in the show."

For Lesser, the quilt's design, composition and minimalist subject matter is as sophisticated as artist's creating in more tradition art forms.

Seems this members-only art show is good for everyone.

"Inspired by the Six Senses," a multimedia exhibit of members' work, is at Rockville Arts Place, 9300 Gaither Road, Gaithersburg, through Aug. 16. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 301-869-8623.