After years as an able but highly restrained maker of abstract watercolors and collages, Washington artist Kitty Klaidman has abandoned abstraction to reveal herself -- at last -- as the passionate Expressionist landscape painter she has always been at heart.
The results, at Fendrick Gallery -- all brilliantly colored, highly gestural landscapes of the Sierra Bernia region of Spain -- constitute her first fully mature body of work. Anyone who has watched her long and dogged pursuit of a distinctive and appropriate visual language will find this breakthrough show a special joy.
Though based on a specific Mediterranean landscape where she has long spent part of each year, Klaidman's large paintings on paper are no mere records of the look of a place, but rather vehicles for her feelings about it. Using on-site sketches and photographic color notes, these acrylics (effectively combined with oil pastel) were produced in her Washington studio since her return from Spain last summer. Thus the vivid silhouettes of purple mountains, the constantly changing light and mood of the skies, the joyfully colored blooming olive and almond trees and grasses represent not one single moment, but rather a cumulative visual and emotional experience. Which is, of course, what makes the best ones -- such as "Violet Hills" and "Orange Fields" -- utterly timeless.
Klaidman sees her return to Expressionism -- the style of her student days -- as the end of a 15-year period of necessary, self-imposed discipline, during which she felt the need to isolate, explore and master the essentials of both form and color; she has a wonderful way with color.
"I now feel they are a part of me, which has freed me once again to give full expression to my emotional relationship with my subject matter," she says. "Basically, I let go again. But this time I am in control, and it feels terrific."
The show, which also looks terrific, will continue at 3059 M St. NW through Dec. 15. Hours at Fendrick are Mondays through Saturdays, 9:30 to 5:30 p.m. Benes Cash Collages
Wanna laugh? Try a lunchtime stroll to the Federal Reserve Board (C Street between 20th and 21st streets NW), where New York artist Barton Lidice Benes is showing the latest batch of collages made from the millions in shredded 5- and 10-dollar bills presented to him by the Fed in 1983. It was a barter deal: In exchange for the worn-out, shredded bills, the Fed received at least one collage for its permanent collection, the three-dimensional "Butterfly" fashioned from old Japanese currency.
Convinced that art supplies cost more than real dollar bills, Benes began using money from all over the world as his primary medium some years back, and this show summarizes -- and is said to conclude -- that phase. Those who have seen Benes' funny-money shows at Fendrick over the years will have a strong sense of de'ja vu when they see the boxed "Smorgasbord" collages, in which ethnic foods are re-created in the appropriate currency -- like snail shells covered with French francs, and spaghetti made from Italian lire.
But along with the one-liners are some unforgettable works, such as "Security Blanket," a seven-foot-square shag rug made from shredded dollar bills, and "Portfolio," in which a tube of paint exudes money, and a roller lays down a beautiful pattern of fish cut out of bills from the Central Bank of the Bahamas. There are also several "Fetishes" fashioned from bills and cowrie shells that take a more ironic stance on the role of riches in all societies, the best a portrait bust of "King Midas" atop a classical column. Benes is always a master of pattern, and a compulsive worker as well. A fire-spewing "Chinese Dragon" made from Chinese currency on view here is simply mind-boggling.
The show, accompanied by a handsome catalogue, will be on view at the Fed through Dec. 21, after which it will travel to Federal Reserve Banks in Dallas and Cleveland. Public hours here are limited to Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 11:30 to 2 p.m., or by appointment (call 452-3686). A few Benes works are also on view upstairs at the Fendrick Gallery. British Watercolors
Fanciers of British art, their appetites whetted by "19th Century British Watercolors," which just opened at Meridian House International (1630 Crescent Place NW), will be happy to know that 60 works by 18th- and 19th-century British watercolorists are also available for sale, at prices ranging from $60 to $2,000, in the second-floor board room at the Junior League, 3039 M St. NW.
Assembled by Oxford-trained art historian and paper conservator Anne Clark James of London, the Junior League show traces the English watercolor tradition from 1730 to 1880, and includes examples by the influential 18th-century artist Paul Sandby, as well as David Cox, John White Abbott and William Gilpin. The show will continue through Dec. 14, and is open Mondays through Fridays, 2 to 6 p.m., or by appointment.
Meanwhile, the largely Victorian show at Meridian House was selected from the stock of three dealers: Oliver Swann Galleries, London; Taggart, Jorgensen & Putman, Washington; and Cora Dobson, agent for the estate of watercolorist Charles Gilbert Heathcote. The show will continue through Jan. 6, , 1 to 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays