Trawick Prize Winners' Attention to Details

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

Established in 2003, the Trawick Prize was Bethesda businesswoman Carol Trawick's attempt to lend a little prestige, not to mention financial incentive, to the label of "local artist." With $14,000 in prize money (including a $10,000 best-in-show check), the annual competition served as a wake-up call -- to artists, who had previously not seen that rich a local purse, and to art lovers, who were being told, in no uncertain terms, that their homegrown art stars were worth serious dough and attention.

Fast forward to 2005, when Trawick, concerned by the poor showing by painters in the competition's first two years against artists in other media, established the Bethesda Painting Awards to recognize what seemed like a vanishing art form.

As it turns out, it may not have been necessary.

Last year, for the first time, a painter, Jiha Moon, took top honors in the Trawick contest, which is open to work in all media and this year includes installation, video, cut paper, photography and drawing, in addition to painting. This year, another painter, James Rieck, walked away with 10 grand and the best-in-show ribbon. It has been a good year for the young artist, who also happened to come in second in the separate painting competition earlier this summer. Most interesting, though, is Rieck's style, which is a kind of highly polished photo-realism based on mid-20th-century advertisements. A shameless homage to paint at the same time that it questions its relevance, it feels simultaneously deadpan and idealized. Rieck's two works, on view this month alongside pieces by his 13 fellow finalists at Creative Partners Gallery, have an almost old-fashioned beauty, as well as that creepy edge so highly prized in today's art world. (In this case, it may have something to do with his headless female subjects' plastic eroticism.)

If there's a theme to this year's exhibition, it could be said to be one of meticulousness. Third-prize winner Molly Springfield's precisely rendered graphite-and-paper drawings of old notes from the artist's school days, still folded to retain their poetic mystery, are a case in point, as are Adam Fowler's stunning cut-paper abstractions.

But the show's scene-stealer, for me, was the work of Richmond-based "collections artist" Caryl Burtner, the centerpiece of whose work -- contained in five three-ring binders so humble a visitor might easily overlook them -- consists of photographs and photocopies recording the provenance of every aspirin, blouse, bed linen, glove and shampoo bottle the artist has used, going back almost 30 years. It's a tour-de-force example of performance art, stark in its everyday simplicity, yet with the power of a ton of feathers (not bricks).

Stunning in its labor-intensive -- no, make that obsessive-compulsive -- nuttiness, Burtner's art makes Rieck and others in the show look like pikers. Still, "The Caryl Burtner Archives," as they're called, are not without a sense of humor. They disturb and delight in equal measure.

THE TRAWICK PRIZE: BETHESDA CONTEMPORARY ART AWARDS Through Sept. 29. Creative Partners Gallery, 4600 East West Hwy., Bethesda (Metro: Bethesda). 301-951-9441. or Open Tuesday-Saturday noon to 6. Free.

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