Those in charge of choosing which pieces to include in this year's countywide art exhibition, "Seeing Red: A Juried Exhibition," were expecting a lot of variations on the American flag. To their surprise, of the 147 entries, there were no U.S. flags, but several works featuring red peppers.
Because the contest required that the color red figure prominently in the artwork, and because renowned Washington painter Sam Gilliam was the juror, there were almost four times as many entries this year than last year, said J.D. Garn, exhibitions specialist for the show's sponsor, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Division of the county's Parks and Recreation Department.
Out of the various media submitted, including paintings, three-dimensional sculpture, installation pieces, traditional oil on canvas, photography and ceramics, 27 pieces by 25 artists will be exhibited tomorrow through Jan. 11 at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington.
"We thought having red as a significant element would be fun and would open it up to all kinds of artists," Garn said. In past years' juried competitions, which are designed for artists who live, work or attend school in the county, themes have included digital media and sculpture.
"I think there's an emotional response related to red, a stronger emotional response than, say, blue, which is a calmer, more passive color. Red is more vibrant, and lots of people have strong reactions to it," Garn said.
When she found out about "Seeing Red," Hyattsville artist and former New Yorker Eileen Cave used acrylic paints on canvas to create "Blood Moon Gathering." The painting is a scene of New Yorkers dressed in varying shades of red partying under the light of both a red moon and the two beams of light that shone in the sky temporarily to memorialize the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
"I saw the two lights as a positive symbol of recovery. Even when you're celebrating, that event still looms in the environment," said Cave, 46, whose collage "Crimson Gyration" is also part of the exhibition. "There's still an emotional attachment to what the people in New York are experiencing, and the color red seemed an interesting way to show that because you can use so many tints and hues to capture the spirit and emotion of the event."
Like Cave, many of the artists created the works expressly for "Seeing Red," though some already had works in which red prevailed. Gina Mai Denn, 34, made three potlike ceramics painted with red enamel just before the exhibition was announced. The Greenbelt potter wanted to make groups of pots for a long time, though she cannot pinpoint her reasons for painting them red. "It's vague, just an inspiration I've had. They are kind of flamelike gourds that I've had in my head for a long time," Denn said.
Ellen Baer has always used an overwhelming amount of red in her abstract paintings, though she, too, had difficulty explaining why. "It's a very bright color. It's sort of harmonious and I love the combinations of reds. Basically I just like it," said Baer, 42, a graduate art student at University of Maryland whose abstract painting "Radiate" is also in the show.
Gilliam, the juror, is a painter of colorful abstracts whose work has been exhibited worldwide and is part of permanent collections at prominent museums, including the National Gallery of Art. He will be in charge of conferring $800 in cash awards at the exhibit's opening reception.
"I've never been part of a juried show where color has been the driver," Cave said. "At first, I didn't think I could use only red. The more I thought about it, the more it fit my body of work -- vivid, colorful crowd scenes. It was a challenge to show all the dimensions, but there's a lot you can do with red."
The opening reception for "Seeing Red" is tomorrow from 7 to 9 p.m. at Harmony Hall Regional Center, 10701 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington. The exhibition and the reception are free; the show lasts until Jan. 11. Call 301-203-6070 for more information.