It may only be a coincidence, but this local artists' show, juried by Eliza Rathbone, chief curator at the Phillips Collection, has the same emphasis on brilliant color and intimate figurative and landscape paintings for which that museum is famous.
Of course, these works are less rarefied: The 23 pieces on exhibit at the Harmony Hall Regional Center, chosen from artists in the National Artists Equity Association, a nonprofit professional organization, are nearly all accessible in terms of scale, subject matter and even price. There's nothing here to offend, confuse or challenge, but there are many pieces tempting enough to want to take home--starting with those by the three artists sharing best-in-show honors.
Josh Holland's oil "Little Bus Stop" won the award, but the two charcoal drawings that flank it show even more clearly his strong compositional skills and feeling for light and shadow. From a distance, these simple scenes from the street or the mall look like black-and-white photographs. Up close, there's no detail; the stories are told only in form and gesture.
Three searingly colored landscapes by Ann B. McKay, another winner, light up a wall of the gallery. Two are glowing pastoral scenes of rolling farmland and mountains. The third, "King Farm Development," stars a bright orange earth-mover, poised to dig, and a raw swath of turned earth cutting through the greenery. It's depicted with just as much detachment and formal interest as the mountain is, but you get the point all the same.
Janet Wheeler, the other award winner, shows small, shadowboxed mixed-media collages. Painted in metallic layers of bronze, copper and tiny slices of turquoise, their rectangles and cylinders look like they're constructed of industrial scrap or sculptural metal. But they're light enough to be paper or cloth, simultaneously soft and sturdy.
Two haunting works--unfortunately, not for sale, unlike the other pieces in the show--are oil and alkyd on paper by Carol Sky. Both tiny, realistic scenes of sleepers, with each fold of blanket and quilt revealed, have something Hopperesque about them, whether it's in their treatment of light or in the lonely twinge to their subject matter.
A vibrant portrait, "Pink Nightgown" by Maria M. Lenches, looks museum-ready. The study of a woman looking at herself in a mirror, with bold strokes of paint describing her hair and gown, is old-fashioned, but sophisticated, like a French expressionist painting from almost 100 years ago.
A handful of abstract pieces and one small sculpture round out the show and make clear that Artists Equity is "aesthetically nonpartisan," as the group's literature puts it. Its purpose is to work for better working conditions and rights for professional artists, offering services such as insurance and business advice.
The Washington D.C. Area Chapter, National Artists Equity Association Members Exhibition runs through Jan. 14 at Harmony Hall Regional Center, 10701 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington. The gallery is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 301-203-6070 for more information.
CAPTION: "Winter Mountain Music," one of the searingly colored landscapes by artist Ann B. McKay.