If it's June, it must be gay pride month. Washington's Triangle Artists Group has gotten into the spirit of Capital Pride Week events leading up to this weekend's parade and street festival with an exhibit, "Queering Sight -- Queer Insight," that opened Friday at the Warehouse Gallery on Seventh Street NW.

The work of more than 20 artists is displayed in the gallery, as well as in auxiliary rooms upstairs and in the adjacent cafe.

A busy flow of opening-night attendees explored the exhibition spaces, as crowds from other events in the Warehouse arts complex -- "Ten Naked Men" in the theater, the 48-Hour Film Project in the screening room, a rock concert at Warehouse Next Door -- intermingled throughout the evening.

What does the exhibition reveal to be important to local gay artists at this moment? Politics? Sex? Beauty? Identity?


Of course, that content isn't fundamentally different from what you often see in art, regardless of an artist's sexuality. But sexuality adds an undeniable spin for artists and viewers alike.

"Being gay is an integral thing," says artist John Borstel, 47. "It informs a lot of who I am. I like to express myself with as little inhibition as possible."

Borstel's work in the exhibition was inspired by a Concerned Women for America bumper sticker that reads "Real Men Marry Women." He obtained several copies of the sticker, made anagrams out of them and posed for photographic self-portraits in costumes related to the new stickers. ("Real Men R Women, Mary!" and "Marry Me, Norma Newel" accompany two female drag representations. Other variations are somewhat less tame.) He calls the series "Kiss My Bumper."

"I don't often combine the artistic and political," Borstel says. "But I seem to be suddenly embracing that possibility."

Matt Hollis, 25, says politics aren't likely to come into his art: "I don't think it'll ever get too close to the work."

He suspended a 6-by-10-foot section of chain-link fence from the ceiling, wove colorful fabric into the fence and hung a series of portraits -- clouds, flowers, leaves, his face made up with rave-like glitter -- nearby to complete the installation.

Being gay, Hollis says, "just happens to add another viewpoint. . . . This was one of the first times it came together with my art."

Standing outside a room devoted to the work of 10 artists in a male figure drawing group -- one of Triangle Artists Group's ongoing activities -- exhibition visitor Aaron Norton, 26, reflected on the overall impact of the show: "I don't think it collectively says one thing. But it's important that so much variation of expression exists. And whenever there's an opportunity to create [gay] visibility, that's an important part of artistic expression."

Painting Awards

The first Bethesda Painting Awards were presented last night at Fraser Gallery during an opening reception for an exhibition of work by eight award finalists. The competition -- open to artists in the District, Maryland and Virginia -- drew 225 contestants.

Joe Kabriel of Annapolis received the $10,000 best-in-show award. John Aquilino of Rockville received a $2,000 second-place award, Dominique Samyn-Werbrouck of Alexandria received $1,000 for third place, and the $1,000 young-artist award went to Catherine Lees, an undergraduate at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

The jurors were Churchill Davenport of the Maryland Institute, Chawky Frenn of George Mason University and Claudia Rousseau of Montgomery College.

The Bethesda Painting Awards are a spinoff from the three-year-old Trawick Prize, another contest for area artists also vying for $14,000 in award money. Both competitions are funded by Carol Trawick, owner of Trawick & Associates, a Bethesda information technology company, and administered by the Bethesda Urban Partnership to promote Bethesda as an arts destination.

"It's a more traditional medium," says Stephanie Coppula, the partnership's director of marketing and communications, noting that Trawick Prize jurors have favored "cool, edgy" works over painting. "We wanted to make sure we were also honoring painters."

Queering Sight -- Queer Insight at Warehouse Gallery, 1019 Seventh St. NW, through June 26. Open Monday-Friday 3-10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m. Free. Call 202-783-3933 or visit www.tagdc.org.

Bethesda Painting Awards Exhibition at Fraser Gallery, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda, through July 6. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Extended hours tomorrow until 9 p.m. Free. Call 301-215-6660 or visit www.bethesda.org.

Above, Toshio Mana and Joseph Dress, center, ponder Matt Hollis's chain-link-and-fabric installation during the opening reception for "Queering Sight -- Queer Insight." Left, patrons admire a set of self-portraits by John Borstel titled "Kiss My Bumper.""Soul Surfing" by Joe Kabriel of Annapolis. He won the $10,000 best-in-show award at the Bethesda Painting Awards.