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Website: www.galleryunderground.org
Phone: (571) 483-0652
Hours: M-F 10AM-6PM, Sat. 10AM-2PM

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Traditional? Abstract? Artist Bud Hensgen Takes It All On

One of Bud Hensgen's traditional landscapes
Ever wondered what makes an artist want to make art? And what makes them take on a new media in a completely different style mid-career?

Like many artists, Gallery Underground member Bud Hensgen has never been far away from art."I was always the kid in class who could draw," says Hensgen. "Even when I went into the Foreign Service, I took my paints with me."  After his 30-year Foreign Service career came to a close, he began painting even more, taking a class from Jane McElvany Coonce through adult education [Coonce is also a gallery member].

In this class, Hensgen began doing traditional landscapes in oil, which he enjoyed then and still enjoys. He began entering shows and displaying work at venues, making a name for himself as a skilled traditional landscape painter.


To grow as an artist, Hensgen began taking additional classes at the Torpedo Factory through the Art League in Alexandria, VA, studying with well-known abstract artist Joyce McCartin - this time in acrylic. "This," says Hensgen, "was a very different painting experience. There is a spirit of play with abstracts; you go into it with no expectations, and play with the medium." Many traditional painters find when they begin painting abstracts that they have suddenly lost the "safety net" of a photo or object they are basing their painting on - despite this, Hensgen was energized. "You immediately get into a dialogue with the painting; the panorama is so wide when you're not in a dialogue with a "thing" - and only in a dialogue with the canvas," he says
Acrylic abstract by Bud Hensgen

This experience encouraged Hensgen to look at other artists' abstract paintings, in museums and in books. "Your horizon really expands when you look at famous abstracts; you learn an appreciation for their work."

Honing his abstract skills with additional classes, Hensgen has now become known for his large-scale abstracts. Hensgen feels that with abstract painting, there is more ego involved. "I find that abstracts are much more personal than traditional works; there is more 'you' in an abstract." Artists who have done both types of paintings will no doubt agree; although many painters will "abstract" a traditional still-life or scene - or use something as a jumping-off point - there is much more of the artist's imagination involved in a pure abstract painting.  What Hensgen really enjoys about abstract is the idea of "color as color; form as form; two forms speaking to each other."

Many abstract artists work in series; it can be scary when the series is finished. "When you work on an abstract series and then finish it, you have to get a new inspiration," Hensgen says. "You are walking a bit in the desert." He will, like many artists, continue to work in both mediums, enjoying the journey of working in two very opposing disciplines.
Hensgen returning to his roots, working on a
traditional landscape in the gallery

                                                                            --Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, October 10, 2014

Buying art? Time to move on from Thomas Kinkade

A recent visitor to the gallery, in town from Ohio on business, greatly admired one of our abstracts and began to tell me of his and his wife's art-buying journey.

"When we first began purchasing art, we - um - bought one of those Thomas Kinkade paintings," he said rather sheepishly. "It was a reproduction signed by the artist."
Thomas Kinkade Archive in Monterey, CA

Not to cast aspersions on the highly collectable work of Mr. Kinkade, but as this visitor began to realize, what he had was, after all, not an original, unique piece of art. He went on to say that as he and his wife began to travel, they began purchasing art by local artists, and eventually began commissioning pieces. The Thomas Kinkade was relegated to a closet for years. They finally sold it.

The visitor shared with me some photos of their commissioned works, installed in their chic, modern apartment: abstracts, a huge glass mosaic piece and sculpture. I couldn't picture a mass-produced piece like Kinkade's in this setting. "We've evolved," he laughed.

When adding art their home, most people realize at some point that they've outgrown the prints and posters of their college days, and the reproductions from the mall furniture store. They want something original, but admit to a lack of confidence: As a result, some figure the thing to do is find the most upscale, chic gallery in their city, only to return home after finding that the piece they liked carried a price tag equivalent to that of a small car.

Gallery Underground in Arlington, VA
What our visitor discovered is that good art abounds in local art organizations. This couple google "art leagues" when they travel, and make a beeline for these galleries. They have learned that here they will find art they like at an affordable price by a local artist, forge a relationship, and have art from places they have visited and loved. Whether commissioning a piece or purchasing one already completed, they are always thrilled when they hang it in their home.

Most artists who belong to their local art organizations have been artists for years; many regularly are juried into competitions and win awards. The quality is high, but without the overhead the upscale urban galleries command, the prices at local art organizations' galleries are usually much more affordable.

The artists in our gallery are all members of the Arlington Artists Alliance, and as our recent visitor found, the art is exceptional. He took several business cards. "I'll be calling to commission some pieces," he said as he left. And these pieces will NOT end up in the closet.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director








Thursday, September 25, 2014

Never Drink and Draw?

...so goes the saying. Under the influence of alcohol, everything an artist does looks to them like an award-winning showpiece. Until the next morning. Not unlike certain - um - bar experiences, they wake up, glance at what they did the night before and think What. On. Earth. Of course, it could be worse. An artist can always paint over disasters, unlike more...permanent artwork which sometimes happens after imbibing.
So, too many cocktails + artwork usually does not result in the desired effect for the experienced professional artist.

However, for those who have never painted before and are looking to give it a whirl in a relaxed setting, sometimes a little "Dutch courage" can be helpful.  It can sweep away those "there's no way I can make art. Not possible. I have two left hands!" thoughts.  For this reason, "sip and paint" events are all the rage; you can find them in every city.

Gallery Underground offers its own version, called "Painting Uncorked."  Budding artists show up to the gallery at 6:30 on Thursday nights ready to relax and create a painting in 2 hours that they will be able to take home, while sipping a glass or two of wine. The class is capped at 15 students, and every student paints the same image, under the step-by step direction of Justyne Fischer, a Fairfax County High School AP art teacher for 16 years.

"I find that many students have had either a bad experience, or no experience at all with art. This is a way to simplify the process while making it fun, in a social setting," Fischer says. She says that one problem some people have had with art is that they don't know where to start: "You need to be taught the foundation and principals. Once you have that, it's a lot less frightening."

Most people are surprised at how well their finished paintings turn out. Fischer says that though many students are a bit self-conscious about what they've made, they nevertheless are very pleased with what they created, and excited to take it home to hang in their homes.

So there are times when you really can drink and draw (or paint)! To register for an upcoming Painting Uncorked class, visit our website: http://www.galleryunderground.org/painting-uncorked/

A recent Painting Uncorked class shows off their finished work
  Teacher Justyne Fischer is far left, back row


--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director





Friday, September 19, 2014

Entering Juried Art Shows: Not For The Thin-Skinned

Artists have fragile egos. We work for hours, days, months (even years?) on a piece. "A masterpiece," we think. "This will get into that upcoming juried show for sure," we think. Only to check our email or show up at the jurying location to find out it wasn't selected. Suddenly our elation changes to, "Ok, not a masterpiece. In fact, no good at all. What was I thinking?" Try as we might, we cannot keep those thoughts from invading and we suddenly lose confidence in ourselves and our abilities. There is no artist on earth, no matter how celebrated and successful, who has not been rejected from a juried show. We are all in good company. Take, for instance, Mary Cassatt: those lucky enough to visit the Cassatt/Degas exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington DC will no doubt remember this beautiful painting, "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair"
Mary was clearly very pleased with this painting, and entered it into the Art Gallery of the American Pavillion at the 1878 World's Fair, where it was rejected. Mary was not happy. In a 1903 letter to her Parisian art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, she said:
"It was the portrait of a friend of M. Degas. I had done the child in the armchair and he found it good and advised me on the background and he even worked on it. I sent it to the American section of the big exposition [of 1878], they refused it ... I was furious, all the more so since he had worked on it. At that time this appeared new and the jury consisted of three people of which one was a pharmacist!" 

Even a painting worked on by both Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas was rejected from a show; in fact, the impressionists were often rejected from the great Parisian art shows. Although most shows these days are juried by - ahem - actual working artists rather than pharmacists, there is still quite a bit of head-scratching that goes on when artists find out what did - and did not - get into a given show.

Mary's painting was eventually accepted into multiple shows. Gallery Underground member Jane McElvany Coonce, a teacher for more than 30 years, loves to tell her students this story: she entered a painting into a monthly juried show over and over, only to have it rejected each time. She really believed in this painting, so undaunted, she thought, "Ok, I'll give it one more try," This time, the painting was not only accepted, it won Best in Show. And one of Gallery Underground's recent jurors, Mark Cameron Boyd, told the story at our opening reception of having had a painting rejected from a show by a juror only to have that same juror accept it into a subsequent show!

So, we as artists have to remind ourselves that often a "rejection" may have to do with a juror's mood on any given day, what they had for lunch, or a color they hate rather than the artist's talent. The good news is that there is always another juried show. And one after that.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Feeling Left Out?

We artists all revel in taking our duly-earned "artistic license" - whether we are working from life, from photos, or (for the more intrepid among us) from something we dreamed up in our heads.  We constantly edit as we work, leaving things out, adding things that aren't there, changing and rearranging. These edits may be for compositional reasons ("the chair in this photo is at a very awkward angle and is blocking the figure I'm focusing on - leaving it out"); emotional reasons ("this type of flower brings back powerful painful memories of someone in my past...not going to paint it"); or even physical reasons ("I am physically incapable of painting these hands. They are going behind this figure's back!").

For the current juried show at the gallery, aptly titled "Left Out," artists were challenged to submit works of art in which they left out certain aspects of - or added to - the original from which they were working. It made for a very varied and compelling show. Take, for instance, our 2nd Place winner by Mary Ryder, a piece in carbon titled "An Innocent Man" at right. Scary, yes? That was Mary's point. Her edits fell into the "emotional reasons" category.

Says the artist of the piece:  "As this painting progressed, I was deliberate about omitting features and items that would connect us somehow to the figure - forcing the viewer to focus on the face, which is quite obviously haunting. Looking at something 'nice' is easy...looking at something disquieting is more challenging. He is 'an innocent man,' yet some are still quick to presume some sort of maleficence or guilt because of his appearance. Isn't it just as likely that he has suffered some tragedy or injustice? Perhaps it is the viewer's empathy,compassion, and humanity that has also been left out."

Artist Judith Landry left things out of her oil painting "Umbrian Way," at left, for compositional reasons.  Says Judith about her choices: "In this Umbrian street scene, I deleted unnecessary details, such as an unattractive red stop sign and street grates and gutters, in order to simplify the composition. I also eliminated several people standing in doorways, to create the impression of solitude and to draw the viewer's eye into the painting by focusing on the old woman walking down the street."

Most art buyers are probably unaware that the finished piece they have purchased is the result of constant, ongoing decisions on the part of the artist, and may differ significantly from the way the piece started. Leaving out is all part of the creative process!

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Think You Can Tell What Type of Artist Created a Work? Think Again

This piece is one of 6 pieces that have sold in our current Focus Gallery Show, entitled "Making Their Mark: Art Brut." You may look at this piece, and others in this show, and assume they were done by experienced artists with long careers in the art field. You would be wrong.  This show is in conjunction with "Purple Art," an art therapy program that works with unique cultures with disabilities, as well as military members and their families. Translated as "raw art," Art Brut describes artwork created without the influence of classical art or culture. These artists lack formal training and live outside the cultural mainstream, creating art that is also known as "Outsider Art."

The pieces stand on their own as great art, borne out by the comments of our gallery visitors who notice the art first, and read the description of the show later. One could argue that many of us, as artists, are constrained by our backgrounds - whether we have MFAs or have just taken one class. We all have difficulty getting that voice out of our heads that says "You can't mix this color with that color" or "You must always have your perspective absolutely correct" and on and on. Those teachings stick with us and, many times, hold back our true creativity. 

We have all benefited tremendously from the classes and workshops we have taken, and none of us want to give up that continued growth; but much can be learned from these inexperienced - but talented and unfettered - artists. Bruce Lee (perhaps an unlikely source) said of art: "Art reaches its greatest peak when devoid of self-consciousness. Freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or is about to make." 

The artists in this show instinctively know this, and it has made for a very compelling show. The show runs through August 23rd. Come in and have a look. - Sandi Parker, Co-Director, Gallery Underground