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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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Featured Artist Jane McElvany Coonce: Playing with Light

"The way light falls on an object has always fascinated me.  In paintings and in sculpture, I strive to capture the interesting effect that light plays on the subject." So says Gallery Underground featured artist Jane McElvany Coonce of her work.

Coonce works in acrylic, oil, pastel, watercolor and terra cotta. She is known for her beautiful oil paintings of bridges in and around Arlington County and Washington, D.C., especially Key Bridge with a view to Georgetown. She is also adept at portraits - both the human and animal kind - and does still lifes, landscapes and murals. She travels extensively, teaching watercolor on cruise ships. This affords her a rich collection of images to paint from, both during these trips and back at home, where she works from photos.

"An Evening in Georgetown" Oil by Jane McElvany Coonce
 Having been in the art field for over 35 years, Coonce's works are held by private collectors, and her corporate collectors include the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland,  the International Country Club of Fairfax, Virginia, Georgetown University, and the Rickover Naval Academy.  She has won numerous awards for both her paintings and her sculptures, including first prize at the International Miniature Society of Washington,D.C. in 2000 and first prize in the plein air competion of Kensington in 2005.  

Coonce was a featured artist in Elan Magazine, June 2004, with her art work appearing on the cover.  In the Spring of 2007, she was the featured artist at NBC News in Washington, D.C.  In the summer of 2002, she had a solo exhibit at Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria Campus. One of her paintings was featured on the cover of the Washington Post Magazine, Oct. 14, 2001 and The Olde Town Crier, April 2001. Her work is  featured in the newly published book, How Did You Paint That?  100 Ways to Paint Still Lifes and Florals Vol. II , published by International Artist Publishing. Prints and cards by the artist are carried at  Georgetown University. In 2005, she was commissioned to do the portrait of Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarine.  Her work is represented by The Kevin Butler Gallery in Martha’s Vineyard, MA  and in West Hampton, N.Y, Aerie Art Gallery in Rehoboth, DE, and Gallery Underground in Arlington, VA.
"Red Light District" Oil by Jane McElvany Coonce

Coonce has been an art instructor for Arlington County Adult Education since 1980, teaching many members of the Arlington Artists Alliance.  She presently teaches at Wilson School in Arlington.  She was the founder and president for 9 years of the Arlington Artists Alliance and is the former vice president of the Miniature Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers of Washington, D.C., former 1st Vice President of The Art League  board at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria,Va. and former President of the McLean Art Society. Presently, she is the Vice President of the Arlington Artists Alliance and the Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Art Cener.  She is a member of the Potomac Valley Watercolorists and is  an Associate Member of the Oil Painters of America.

Born in Washington, D.C., Jane was raised in Arlington, Virginia and still resides there with her husband and three sons.
"The Pigeon Lady" Watercolor by Jane McElvany Coonce

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Magical Properties of Light: Elise Ritter

Artist Elise Ritter
"My art reflects my adoration of luminous jewel-toned color, and the magical properties of light," says Gallery Underground's featured artist for March, Elise Ritter.

Working mostly in watercolor and acrylic paints, Elise Ritter captures landscapes with fluidity, paying special attention to light, atmosphere, and reflection. She creates luminosity through an emphasis on air and saturated color and light. Certain palettes dominate and reappear throughout her paintings, including golds, purples, blues and oranges. Her subject matter generally includes seascapes, nature and cafes. Elise also does compelling abstracts in mixed media.

"I try to capture a special moment, and elicit an emotional and interactive reaction on the part of the viewer. My subject matter includes landscapes, seascapes, and spiritually influenced abstracts," she says.

"Morning Has Broken" by Elise Ritter (acrylic)
Elise spent much of her youth moving and traveling around the US and Europe. After earning a degree in journalism, she had a 20-year career in publishing, primarily for Time-Life Books, in Alexandria, VA. In the mid-1990s, after receiving a masters degree in clinical social work, she was a counselor, and also worked as a freelance writer/editor. Around 2003 she started painting, and has been creating ever since.

She says various influences include stained glass windows in cathedrals; expressionist art from Vienna, Austria; waves, wind and dappled light at the seashore; the pulsating vitality of the city; and the love of family and friends.
"Red Skies" by Elise Ritter (watercolor)

In addition to her membership in the Arlington Artists Alliance, Elise was selected to join the Potomac Valley Watercolorists, a group of top watercolor artists in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia region. Her work was published in “Potomac Valley Watercolorists: Celebrating 40 years 1974-2014,” a commemorative edition. She is also a member of the Virginia Watercolor Society and her paintings have been selected for several annual statewide Virginia Watercolor Society shows.

"Communion of Saints" by Elise Ritter (acrylic)
"I believe in the healing properties of beauty, creation, and light," she says. "As Irish Mystic John O'Donohue wrote: "The human soul is hungry for beauty...when we experience the beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. We feel most alive in the presence of the beautiful, for it meets the needs of our soul."

Elise resides in Arlington, Virginia, and at her waterfront home in Urbanna, Virginia near the Chesapeake bay.

Elise's has pieces in Gallery Underground every month; her featured pieces will be up through March 28.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director