The Touchstone Gallery in downtown DC has two new exhibits for art lovers to immerse themselves in. The exhibits: “beg borrow + steal: works on cardboard by Dana Brotman” and “COLORFEST” will be on display until October 29. “COLORFEST” fills most of the gallery and displays curated micro-shows by 50 Touchstone Gallery artist members. It takes the observer on a colorful journey through each of these artists’ distinct styles. Dana Brotman’s playful portraits are a welcome surprise, tucked in the back corner of the gallery. Both exhibits are engaging experiences, allowing the viewer to experience many different mediums of art within a single gallery.
The reality of “COLORFEST”, which melds 50 separate collections into a one, could easily have overwhelmed the observer. Yet the gallery did an excellent job setting up the wall space to enable each artist’s body of work to be viewed as simultaneously stand-alone and part of the larger exhibition. Color was the connecting thread throughout the seemingly unrelated micro-collections. They differed in genre but were tied together by each collection featuring a prominent hue. The variety of subject matter makes for a dynamic viewing experience, allowing the viewer to crisscross the room and experience something new with each artwork.
Ryan Feipel was one of the few photographers whose work was featured in “COLORFEST.” His photos of the Antelope Canyons in Arizona are breathtaking. They are a part of one of the first collections the viewer seeing walking around the gallery, and the brilliant orange color of the photos are hard to miss amongst the more muted tones in other works. In Dancing Spirit, Feipel captured a moment of the sunshine flooding into the canyon and lighting up the contours of the red rock faces. The light appears blue in some areas, giving the photograph an ethereal quality.
Amy Sabrin and Patricia Williams were two of the many artists whose collections depicted nature through painting. These two artists’ works were especially striking because of their beautiful presentations of watercolor flowers. Williams’s He Loves Me, Loves Me A Lot features a mottled purple and green background which accentuates the bright orange flowers. Some of the petals and the background are left white, perhaps commenting on the imperfection and ever-incompleteness of nature. Sabrin chooses to depict flowers in an abstract fashion in her Spring Loaded painting. Soft translucent blues and pinks are the main focus in her painting and are juxtaposed by harsher overlapping brushstrokes of oranges, greens, purples, and yellows. It attracts the viewer in a different way than Williams’s flowers, offering a more chaotic view of nature.
Not all the collections were focused on nature though, and some were quite whimsical. Rosemary Luckett’s mixed media photo collages used the repeating image of a yellow plastic rubber duckie. In Tossing the Nature Art she enlarged the image of the duckie and set up two of them to look as if they were on the ocean staring up at a metal rowboat flying out of the sky. The boat is full of a menagerie of ocean animals including a flying fish, a lobster, a whale, and a seagull, adding to the piece’s playful nature.
Dana Brotman’s work simultaneously contrasts with “COLORFEST” and complements the incredibly colorful collections in the Touchstone Gallery. Brotman’s portraits defy expectations and are not realistic in the conventional sense. Her subjects’ necks are often falsely elongated which serve to focus the observer’s gaze onto the face. The subjects’ faces are set against colorful, often solid backgrounds and their skin bursts with color. One of Brotman’s most impressive pieces, white t-shirt, is a portrait of her son— his skin created with vibrant oil pastels, to making his face a beautiful cacophony of red, pink, yellow, green, and blue.
Brotman, as her exhibit’s title suggests, gains inspiration from everything around her. In an interview, she said some of her subjects are people she knows, like her son and her daughter, while others are people she comes up with off the top of her head. And other portraits are based off of art she has seen and connected to. In the corner of her exhibit is a portrait of a lithe dancer hanging upside down, reminiscent of the girl in Chagall’s The Acrobat. In another of her portraits, Boy, Brotman takes the little boy dressed in a bright blue suit and a rust-colored shawl in the foreground of Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques and places him on his own against a bright yellow background.
A notable feature of Brotman’s portraits is her choice of medium. All her portraits are painted on sheets of cardboard. She turns pieces of packing boxes, ice cream boxes, and even iPhone boxes into her canvases. She said she’s always curious how a material will react with the painting process. Brotman described how she had to sand down the iPhone boxes, and ended up really liking the way the paint moved on the boxes. The small iPhone box portraits are a detailed and engaging part of her body of work. In some cases, it’s difficult to tell that a portrait is painted on a piece of cardboard while, in others, the edges of the cardboard are left paint free, obviously displaying the reality that a common piece of trash has been turned into a piece of art. Through her use of cardboard, Brotman subverts the “traditional” definition of art and turns a mundane, everyday item like a cardboard box into a noteworthy piece of art.
Stepping into the Touchstone Gallery, you’re immersed in a world of color. Going to see “COLORFEST” and “beg borrow + steal: works on cardboard by Dana Brotman is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon escaping the city.