The brownstone houses populating our quaint neighborhood are home to diplomats, lawyers, and politicos alike, with boutiques, cafes, and salons peppered throughout. An occasional gallery is wedged among this eclectic mix, a reminder of Washington’s vibrant artistic community and a gathering place for those who support that community. Marian Osher opened her exhibition WILD About Spring on April 1 at one of these artistic nooks, the Washington Printmakers Gallery at 1641 Wisconsin Ave NW. The show took clear inspiration from Osher’s travels to Tanzania, giving her source material for the animals and the pastoral settings they inhabit.
After a short viewing and socializing period with light snacks, carbonated water, and assorted wines provided, Osher introduced her latest exhibition. Whimsical acrylic on canvas works and monotypes were arranged below 34 wood photo-circles that Osher took on her pocket-sized digital camera. This was her first time featuring her photography in this gallery, and the works stood in stark contrast with her other pieces because of their small size, precise detail, and circular design. Osher remembered thinking, “Well, it sounds like fun” when deciding to include the photographs in the show. This attitude perfectly embodied the role they played in the display. Somewhat thematically disparate from the rest of the works and displaying more contrast and smaller scale than the paintings, they are a whimsical addition that was fun, but forced audiences to circle the room twice—once for the paintings, and once for the photographs.
During her gallery talk, Osher was open about her artistic process, explaining in detail how she works with background music, and revealed Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead as major inspirations in her process. Osher delved into her techniques for both the photo circles and the monotypes, explaining how she visualized the pieces and worked towards them by experimenting with her technique. She wanted to eliminate a glass barrier between the viewer and her photographs, so she used a UV-inhibiting spray to protect the works, which were printed on archival paper.
Her monotypes also required complicated preparation; using water-soluble STABILO Tones, which look like large crayons, Osher drew out her scenes on mylar, and then transferred them to dampened paper with her etching press. She added final touches with brushes and what looked like watercolor pencils. The effort of her process translates into deceptively straightforward artwork, but which has a depth and vividness of color that is not usually achieved with simple watercolors.
Osher’s monotypes are semi-impressionistic vignettes of the Tanzanian savannah, which she encountered on a recent safari trip. The works are vivid and idyllic, displaying the relaxed power of the lion, the tame playfulness of the velvet monkey, and the endearing clumsiness of the elephant. The works employ a unique sense of depth due to warping in the paper, which seems to have been coaxed along the outlines of the animals with subtle watercolor pencil strokes. The acrylic-on-canvas works are similarly themed, and reflect Osher’s pleasant view of nature. “Here’s Looking at You,” which depicts two side-by side zebras, is one of Osher’s most visually engaging works, and requires extra focus so that the viewer can distinguish the two zebras, directly reflecting the purpose of the animal’s stripes.
Two STABLIO Tones works, “Crescendo” and “Rhapsody,” stand out from the others as large, Georgia O’Keeffe-esque flower macros. Their vibrant reds and pinks more closely reflect the colors of the photo-circles but focus more on the flowers’ texture and the way that the flowers’ petals intersect. The close-up view makes the flowers semi-abstract compositions, and draws the viewer into the flowers.
The exhibition’s grand opening, which featured remarks from Osher regarding her artistic process and thoughts about her works, was well-attended, with both close friends and family making appearances alongside local residents who knew about the gallery or had seen Osher’s works at one of her many shows around the world. The audience was impressed with the works and enjoyed the wisecracks Osher delivered throughout her speech. She stayed throughout the opening, greeting friends and welcoming newcomers.
“To me, art is about connecting,” Osher told the packed gallery, “WILD About Spring expresses my respect and appreciation for diversity … Let us celebrate the vibrance of our diversity in life and in art.” What would usually have been a conciliatory message has taken on new meaning in this political climate, but Osher’s works are altogether inoffensive, and bring a calm sense of purity to the changing of seasons.
WILD About Spring will be on display until April 29 at the Washington Printmakers Gallery.
Image Credits: Photo source: image courtesy of Marian Osher