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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rebecca Croft: Pushing Between Dark and Light

Oil painter Rebecca Croft
“Painting for me is a new exploration every day,” says Rebecca Croft, Gallery Underground's featured artist this month, of her process.  “It takes my mind to places that it would never otherwise go.  I love to travel and represent my memories of places in my paintings, expressing nature through color and light with individual brush strokes to represent a place or thing."

Growing up as an army brat, Rebecca has lived in many places in the world, but makes her home in Arlington, Virginia with her husband and two children.  She has traveled extensively and likes to paint from her photos as well as “Plein Air."  Having grown up moving from place to place has obviously inspired Croft to paint the many places she has experienced.  Recent trips to Africa and Italy have brought forth a treasure trove of exotic paintings, including her recent Italy series, hanging in the gallery this month. "There is nothing like visiting monuments at night, " she says. "The Coliseum was just gorgeous all lit up."
Night at the Coliseum, oil by Rebecca Croft

She says of her style, “Influenced by the impressionist movement, I strive to push my paintings more towards the abstract as opposed to realism.  Each stroke should count."

Impressionist Tulips, oil by Rebecca Croft

Croft was always interested in art, and tossed the idea out to her parents as a college major, but they insisted she major in something they felt more confident would lead to a job. So she majored in business, primarily because learning languages came easily to her and French went along with business classes. She did not revisit art again until her youngest child began school full time; she began taking classes in drawing and painting, and a decade later, "my passion has taken me to the place where I want to share my work, and I'm now selling my work in galleries and online venues." 

Trees with Lavender Fields, oil by Rebecca Croft
"Recently, changing my palette has moved me to push between the dark and the light," she says. "Painting requires total focus that brings me total and complete peace. No other endeavor is the same except possibly reading a really good novel that you don't want to end."

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Color: Joy and Torment

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment - Claude Monet

Color. It can be an artist's friend, or worst enemy (trying to mix a color you see in your head but cannot replicate, for example). It can make - or break - a painting. It is often cited as the single most compelling reason a buyer will choose a painting. Many artists are known for a particular palette, or set of colors they return to over and over. Think of the subdued greens and browns of the Hudson River School artists, or the bright primaries of Matisse. What makes an artist gravitate toward certain colors? The answers are as varied as the different paint shades and range from personal preference to the rules of their game.
"Pink Sky Over Marsh" oil by Rebecca Croft

Some artists use the colors they are continually drawn to in life. "Bright colors make me happy. I’m not drawn to subdued colors," says Gallery member artist Rebecca Croft. "I’ve never liked fall colors like yellows/oranges/browns and don’t buy clothing or decorate with those colors either. I just prefer the pinks/purples/blues/greens."

Member artist Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski says she is more drawn to an analogous palette, or three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, with one being the dominant color, which tends to be a primary or secondary color, and one on either side of the color. For example, redred-orange, and red violet. "I think my favorite mixed oil color is terra rosa and Naples yellow, that emulates lamp light and the afternoon sun," she says.
"Almost Home" oil by Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski

Iconographer and Gallery member Laura Clerici also prefers brighter colors, but her palette is largely dictated by the icon art form. 

"I find myself using the same colors, because the palette is relatively limited by tradition. EVERYTHING in an icon has meaning, including color," she says of her work. "Canonically, certain colors are generally associated with different figures. The Archangel Michael's outer robe is usually a bright red, rather than maroon or blue-red. Jesus always wears an orange-y or gold ocher garment -- because it is supposed to represent "cloth of gold" which is associate with Jesus as the King. He is only shown in white twice, in the icon of the Transfiguration (where the text says his garments were bleached whiter than anyone could make them) and in the Resurrection.
"Lady of the Sign" by Laura Clerici

"You can vary it a bit, but it has to be intentional - what are you trying to say about the figure? For instance, in a Madonna, Mary always wears an outer robe which is largely red, but it can be purple-sh, cherry red, maroon or a brownish red. Each color says something different about who she is. The more blue/purple talks about her close association with the Divine; the more red the color makes a statement about her humanity, and by association about Jesus' nature." 

In addition to being influenced by the art form, color is also influenced by the medium. "Now I am using acrylics more and more, says Bedner-Ostrowski. "And it is wonderfully satisfying to experiment with the oddest color combinations and then just cover it up with another combination until I'm happy."  

Any gallerist will tell you that there is no predicting what colors will draw customers in. This bright abstract by gallery member Nan Morrison, hung near the front of the gallery one month, caught the eye of everyone passing by. Conversely, our solo artist Nihal Kececi's subtle palette is similarly packing them in. 

"Moulin Rouge" acrylic by Nan Morrison; "H Street" acrylic by Nihal Kececi

On the sixth day, God created the artist, realizing no doubt that He had far from exhausted the uses of color. - Robert Brault

~ Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, August 14, 2015

Unknown Lands: Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski's Art

Artist Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski
Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski is on an artistic journey. “I am a beginner at art, picking up a paint brush for the first time five years ago,” says Gallery Underground's featured artist for August.  “As a beginner, I am like a traveler starting out for unknown lands.” To look at her colorful oil paintings, one would never guess she has only been painting for 5 years.

I call my painting style contemporary Impressionism,” she says of her work. “My approach has been evolving over the past few years into a more expressive style, from painting primarily what I see, to attempting to paint what I feel, as well. I am continuing my search for ways to paint more impressionistically.   I want my art to be abstract, but I still want the subject to be discernible, not by attempting realism but rather by using other means such as color and texture.  Eventually, I hope to make my paintings look as if they are emerging from the canvas.” 
"Endless Summer" oil by Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski

Sybil's paintings, always popular with Gallery patrons, pay homage to the great impressionists of the 19th century, and she continues in their tradition. When discussing her bright, unique color palette, she says, "So many choices: warm or cool, high key or low, analogous, complementary, monochromatic?  Where to put the color spots?  Where is the light coming from?   I try many things. I used a limited palate, blending the colors and blurring the edges. I [often] use  bright neon circus hues  and  hard-edged theatrical colors under stage lights.  I [try] to depict calm, and to raise the temperature and excite the senses."
"Naples" oil by Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski

Sybil is also known for her depictions of city life in cities all over the world, both day and night scenes.

Having often wished she had at lest minored in fine arts in college, Sybil hopes that her BA in philosophy from George Washington University will have laid the groundwork for developing the contemplative and observant nature necessary in an artist. She takes art classes and workshops on an ongoing basis, reads art books and artist biographies, and learns by observing the techniques of other local artists. She comes from and artistic family: Her father was known for his handmade exotic wood boxes, which he deeply carved with intricate leaf designs. She has lived in Pennsylvania, New York and Geneva Switzerland. She now resides in Arlington with her husband and two cats - the latter of which often show up in her paintings.
"Siamese Muse" oil by Sybil Bedner-Ostrowski

"I have so much to learn. . . so many unknown lands. . . and so little time," she says. As her work continues to evolve, gallery patrons and fans of her work look forward to seeing where she will venture next, literally and figuratively.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, July 31, 2015

Layers and Transparancies: The work of Elisabeth Hudgins

Artist Elisabeth Hudgins
"In starting a painting, often I begin with a story to tell, but sometimes the story emerges from the artwork." So says Elisabeth Hudgins, whose work was showcased in the gallery this month as our Featured Artist. "My most recent work consists of mixed-media paintings which are an exploration of my imagination and creative process, " says Elisabeth. "Sometimes, the story is elusive. My process involves working with layers, transparencies and double exposures by utilizing collage, photo transfers, paint, found objects, and monoprinting in my artwork. As I build up layers, earlier surfaces sometimes disappear, like memories, layered beneath fresh elements. At times, I peel away top layers to reveal what is underneath, and find what was lost. Visual elements often found in my artwork include: leaves, trees, portraits of people, quilts and fabrics and threads. Much of my work seeks to bridge the gap between the modern and the nostalgic."

"Shelter" mixed media by Elisabeth Hudgins

Elisabeth has done a number of works,culminating in several solo shows,  in which she has incorporated old photos of people and houses. These mixed media works - which incorporate acrylic, watercolor and collaging - have a wonderful nostalgic, generational "found in the attic" quality to them.

Elisabeth’s art journey started at a young age. Inspired by her artist grandmother, Elisabeth earned her BFA at James Madison University and was a Graphic Designer and Art Director.  Later, feeling the need to reconnect with her creativity, she began painting again. This part of the journey has taken her from representational watercolor paintings, to mixed media studies that are more exploratory.

"Dragonfly" mixed media by Elisabeth Hudgins 

"I enjoy the whimsical nature of depicting bugs, fish, cats, dogs and other animals," says Elisabeth of her animal and insect works.  "When I teach art to children, I always include a lesson on painting animals, since there is a universal appeal!  All these mixed media pieces are depicted with many layers of paint and paper, and sometimes a surprise element such as thread, maps and even insect wings!  Trained as a watercolor artist, I maintain my love of transparency, and being able to see through layers of elements.  Now, as a more experimental painter, I enjoy seeing what happens when I make "homemade" papers, which I then use in collage.  My goal is for my artwork to maintain that spontaneous and transparent quality.  I also try and strike the balance between the modern and the nostalgic.”

"Vernal Impressions," acrylic by Elisabeth Hudgins
Another subject matter Elisabeth returns to often are scenes of nature. Trees and leaves are particular favorites. She often uses bright hues to portray cherry blossoms and other flowering trees.

In addition to being a Gallery Underground member artist, Elisabeth's artwork has been also featured in Elan Magazine and regularly shown in the Art League Gallery at the Torpedo Factory and at Stifel &Capra in Falls Church. Her paintings have been accepted into many juried shows, and won awards, including several First Prizes. She has exhibited her work in solo and group shows throughout the state of Virginia. Her most recent solo show was "Lost & Found" at Stifel & Capra in Falls Church, VA. This year, 25 of her pieces were included in an invitational show in the Atrium Gallery, Takoma Park entitled "Dichotomy: A Play of Opposites". Elisabeth accepts commissions, and her work can be found at

-- Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, June 26, 2015

Painting Joy: Featured Artist Jackie Afram

"I have enjoyed creating paintings with oils for over 40 years.  I often use photos I have taken or family and friends give me to create my painting. Sometimes I use one photo and other times several for a painting. I don’t have a particular style but try to use what I think goes best with the subject. I love the variety one can get with different mediums or using palette knife or various types of brushes."  So says Jackie Afram, who was Gallery Underground's featured artist this month. Hanging in the gallery were lovely portraits she did of family.
"A Father's Joy" oil by Jackie Afram

"The primary focus of my June Featured Artist paintings is our granddaughter Rose Joy.  She is true to her name and once she developed her curls she was an irresistible subject.  I worked from photos I took of her and our daughter took of Rose and her father.  You can see from whom she inherited her hair color.  The curls come from her mom.  I didn’t place the pens in her hands. She fell in love with them well before her 22 months." 
"Not Far From the Apple Tree, Left Hand" oil by Jackie Afram

"I have done several commissions for friends and family," says Jackie. "I like to personalize my paintings by hiding wedding dates and bride and groom initials in wedding gifts or putting small symbols for a particular person in a larger painting.  I enjoy doing portraits of children and landscapes.  I also enjoy the challenge of ala prima still lifes.  Recently I have been working with layers of glazes which bring depth and richness to my paintings. I have also experimented with wax as a medium to bring a soft color and oil bars which bridge drawing and painting."
"Iris Panoply" oil by Jackie Afram

Jackie was raised in Southern California on a terraced avocado grove that was a perfect playground.  In fourth grade she received her first commission as an artist.  Using the principles she learned watching Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Jackie copied an Easter bunny pin-up her teacher had bought. The teacher then asked her to make two four-feet high bunnies for future use. Jackie agreed. 

Jackie was able to take an art class elective all four years in high school but only squeezed in a semester at the University of California, Riverside. She graduated from UCR in 1965 and got on a plane for Washington, DC. Jackie’s career took her to Cyprus, where she met her husband, to Panama where they took their daughter and their son was born, and to England. Jackie has just recently fully settled into retirement and now even has her own home studio.

The joy she takes in her painting, and in her subjects, is evident in all her work!

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What's In A Name?

"View From The Dunes" by Sandi Parker
Every artist struggles with coming up with names for their paintings. After pouring our heart, soul, talent and untold hours into a piece, we are then left staring at it thinking "What am I going to call it??" It can completely stymie even the most experienced artist. One thing artists worry about is leading the viewer - and potential buyer - in the wrong direction. Titling a painting "Cape Cod Afternoon" can lose you a sale if the viewer is thinking 'Hmmm, really looks like the Outer Banks where we vacation every summer. Too bad it isn't..." So some artists opt for something more generic like "Afternoon by the Sea." That way the buyer can tell themselves it's their favorite vacation spot. On the other hand, sometimes it works the other way. The buyer sees "Cape Cod Afternoon" and is so enamored of Cape Cod, where they grew up spending every summer, that they have to have the painting - more than they would if it was just any old ocean!

Naming abstracts is a whole other conundrum. Similarly, many abstract artists shy away from being too specific, lest it take away from what the viewer thinks they see. Many of us have experienced an art patron at a reception saying "Wow, I really like this - it looks like birds/skiers/trees....." To which the smart artist just nods! To help an artist keep things generic, there is actually a website devoted to naming abstract art called The Abstract Title Generator. You simply click, and up comes..."Investigation vs Echo" or "The Superimposed Content." You just keep clicking until you find one you like.

"Rocket Man" by Dennis Crayon
Our Gallery Underground artists have offered some of their methodology. Says Dennis Crayon, who has a solo show at the gallery this month: "A lot of times when I am painting I listen to music. If a hear a lyric or title that catches my eye I'll use that as the title. Also I'll look for a song that may fit the title directly. It all started when I was doing a tromp l'oeil of a coloring book page that had an Astronaut in it." The painting at right was eventually titled "Rocket Man" after the Elton John song.

Says gallery member Mary Ryder: "I always try to find an interesting twist of words—a double meaning or a verbal play. [I did a] painting of a doll with straight arms and legs and a painted mouth—I named that one “I Wish I Could Articulate” because the doll can’t speak and it has no joints—playing on both meanings of the word “articulate.” I like to engage the viewer—see if they are paying attention!"

Gallery member Sybil Bedner Ostrowski has an even more intriguing method of naming her paintings. She says, "For my abstracts, I like the idea of opening any book to page 75, and use the second three words in line 1 of paragraph 3. Sometimes they are quite intriguing. e.g., "...on the fields of Crete..." or " your hands..." Etc. It's fun!!

"Metalica" by Jane McElvaney Coonce
"Naming a painting is a talent in itself. I didn't get that gene. It's a very hard thing for me," says Gallery member Jane McElvany Coonce. "Sometimes I use a name of a book or movie and slightly change it. For example, I used the movie title 'The Bridges of Madison County' and named one of my bridge paintings, 'The Bridges of Arlington County.'" Following on Dennis's musical theme, Jane says, "I did a painting of those metal cups we all had in our houses in the 50's. I called this painting 'Metalica' after the band." 

Finally, gallery member Elise Ritter offers her take on naming paintings: "I try to be short, to the point, and descriptive. I try to avoid puns or jokes or plays-on-words, since I just can't pull this off well. Since many of my paintings are based on my travels, or where I have lived in the past, it's not too hard to come up with some, like "Rosegill Reflections." I like that one, since it is named for a body of water (Urbanna Creek) that fronts an old plantation named, "Rosegill Plantation," and what's going on in the painting is the reflections on the water of the sailboats and boathouse. "Rosegill Reflections" has some nice alliteration, too--those double R's!" 
"A Star is Born" by Elise Ritter
She continues, "My favorite new titles are 'A Star is Born,' 'Center of the Universe,' and 'Light Up the Heavens.' These are 3 big abstracts I recently finished. They are inspired by the birth of my first grandchild, in April of this year...and at the same time I became fascinated with images of outer space, the origins of the universe, the galaxies, etc., after reading books on the Hubble telescope, and by binge-watching the series 'Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey', featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson (based on the original with Carl Sagan). Fun stuff!"

Although artists may sometimes have a difficult time coming up with a title, we also have a lot of fun with it. Page 75 anyone?

--Sandi Parker

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mistake? Or Intentional? We Won't Tell if You Don't

I recently attended a flea market where this sign caught my eye. A little research uncovered that the quote is from Scott Adams (unfortunately the sign maker didn't see fit to credit him). As any artist will tell you, we all make "mistakes." But what really constitutes a mistake, and when do those mistakes turn into happy accidents?

"Alexander Cozens, an English landscape painter famous for his study of neoclassical beauty, was illustrating something to a pupil with a quick sketch when he noticed that what he’d drawn had been unconsciously affected by the pre-existing marks on the soiled page. ‘The stains,’ he wrote, ‘though extremely faint, appeared upon revisal to have influenced me, insensibly, in expressing the general appearance of landscape.’ Using a wet brush dipped in stronger ink, he deliberately made some marks on another piece of paper, and instructed his student to turn the blots into a landscape. The previously hesitant boy’s power of composition was freed, and an easy method for generating new landscapes was born." ("The Deliberate Accident in Art," Blots, by Christopher Turner, 1 January 2011, Tate Etc. issue 21: Spring 2011)

The history of art is probably filled with such "happy accidents" which enhance the work or, as in Cozens's case, actually developed into new methods of making art. Our own gallery members relate several such instances: 

"Fall 3"  - before, by Elisabeth Hudgins
"Fall 3" - final painting, by Elisabeth Hudgins
Says Gallery member Elisabeth Hudgins: "I was working in watercolor on some figure paintings. I was too impatient and started painting in my brown background color before the "figure" color had dried, leading to bleeding of the background color into the figure. I put this painting away for a while in my "mistakes" pile.

Later, I began working with painting directly on leaves, and making prints on paper with them. While looking for paper, I came across my figure painting mistake and decided to combine the two. Because of the overlaid transparency of the leaves, the blended figure and background no longer is a glaring mistake, but part of a desirable overall effect,  I liked this effect so much, I have gone on to produce a series of Figure/Leaf paintings."

Another Gallery member, Bryan Jernigan, describes his "happy accident:" “I work a lot in non-representational abstract painting, so oftentimes, I’m abstracting from thoughts and feelings (as opposed to abstracting from something I’m looking at). At one point, I was in a very calm and serene place, and I wanted to communicate that serenity with subtle shades of taupe, white and gray. I kept struggling with how to do it without creating something boring. Loving color as I do, I thought to myself, the only way to emphasize the calmness in the painting would be to have those soothing colors bounce off something more colorful – not a lot, just enough to evoke the feeling. I chose a bit of red, and used a small brush to apply it. Okay, I had the pop of color. Then I thought, why not add a bit of cool blue to add some depth to the grays and taupes? Without paying much attention, I grabbed a blue from my box (couldn’t tell the shade because there was dried paint over the name of the color). When I applied it with a larger brush, I realized immediately it was going in the wrong direction. The blue was too “in your face,” too “loud.” I was immediately baffled, it broke my rhythm and I couldn’t figure out where to go from there…how to fix it. I sat with the piece for a long time. In the interim, someone saw the piece and asked if I created it for Independence Day! 
"Thrust" - before, by Bryan Jernigan

"Because abstract artists are often super tied to the elements of composition, thinking about the piece compositionally was equally frustrating. The piece went nowhere. It just sat there, flat. After a few days, I had had it. I went at the piece with a bit of white to cover up some of the blue, but then I decided to throw in the towel completely. I grabbed some black, loaded my brush and attacked the canvas in an effort to cover the painting entirely. 

Suddenly, my answer appeared before me. The way the black covered the blue, and played against the subtler shades, made all the difference. It toned the piece down, but the expressive strokes also gave the piece a dynamism that wasn’t there before. The dark marks reminded me of a bird taking flight against an airy sky.
"Thrust" - final painting, by Bryan Jernigan
I call this piece, “Thrust,” alluding to the energy expressed in the black marks in the bottom quadrant. Not only is it now one of my favorite pieces, it sold to a lovely couple over Memorial Day Weekend. And in a rare instance for a painter, I was actually able to help them hang it in their living room, allowing me to see how it worked with rest of the art in the room. Nothing quite as gratifying as seeing a piece of your work hanging in a room of the family that loved it enough to live with it.”

You may very well have a treasured painting on your wall that started out as a "mistake." And you may never know...

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Co-Director