Welcome to the new Mind of the Artist series on the CHAW blog! Each month, we will feature a different artist from the Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL), a visual arts program of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) with members drawn from our neighborhood, the city, and the region. This series will be a deep-dive into the richly diverse landscape of perspectives and approaches to art, and we can’t wait to share the stories of these wonderful artists with you–straight from their own pens…or pastels…or lenses! We’re kicking off the series with Cathy Abramson:
After many years working as an art director, graphic designer and occasionally as a book illustrator, I retired and now devote most of my time to painting. I have been a CHAL artist for several years and was introduced to the organization by Nancy Arbuthnot, a watercolorist and poet. At first I thought that I’d never make the trek from Chevy Chase to Capitol Hill but found that CHAL was well worth the journey. There are so many opportunities and as I got involved, more doors opened. The first show I was in was at the Lost Creek Winery in Leesburg, VA. This was followed by a solo show last year, “Chance Encounters” at ENO Wine Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel. I then displayed some of the work at the Four Seasons Hotel gift shop. In January I was awarded a “Best In Show” at the Capitol Hill Art League Show at the Hill Center and now I have work at the Hill Center at the regional show. Earlier this year I had work at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, “For the Record: Artfully Historic DC”.
Besides participating in these CHAL shows or CHAL associated shows, I found that the chance to be be present as a volunteer during the judging of shows has been an eye opener. Judging is a subjective process of course, but listening in on the judging process makes you value artwork you might not be drawn to initially but can grow to appreciate; it shakes you up. I’ve also met wonderful artists at CHAL and hope to see friends there for years to come.
For the past several years I’ve been exploring the urban landscape of Washington, DC, and Bethesda, MD as well as other places I’ve visited. I attempt to capture an ordinary moment, a chance encounter or a fragment of urban life that repeats hundreds of times a day. Ordering lunch or a cup of coffee, passing an art gallery, getting a clock fixed, or glancing in a window are actions we all undertake without a second thought. Even though these moments seem unimportant, together they examine the transient nature of our experience and in an urban environment of constant change, it’s important to isolate and celebrate those moments. Catching those moments and representing them in oil paint raises the consciousness of the joys and frustrations of the urban rhythm.
Even though I attempt to paint a fleeting moment, the procedures I use to make an image are highly structured. First I take many photographs of a scene and combine images in Photoshop to arrive at a composition. Often, these images bear little resemblance to the original scene. After working out the composition I start to draw directly on the canvas in paint, wiping out and redrawing as I go along. This part of the painting is the most fun and creative. I’m always surprised by how little variations in photographic images lead to entirely different compositions or a further search for just the right image from another painting or photograph. After this is the more complex stage of working out the values, hues, and saturation and making a coherent painting. Because my compositions are often complex, and I find the range of color can be somewhat overwhelming, I often look for a single predominant color and go from there.
It will be interesting to see how my paintings change and develop. I’m currently enrolled in a three year atalier program and I’m more aware of the subtleties of value, color and edge. This academic approach is bound to have a profound effect on my painting. The brushiness of my paintings will have to contrast with smooth passages and my drawing will need a far greater level of accuracy. I find that I like rules in representational painting and in a strange way they actually allow for greater artistic freedom.
I’m just starting a project that should take a year to complete. My son and daughter-in-law are active in the Kennedy Street Development Association (KSDA) and will be my guides. The neighborhood, which is located at the intersection of Petworth, Manor Park, Brightwood, and 16th Street Heights, has changed over the last century and is poised to become a hub of new businesses and housing. I want to record the street, the business owners, and residents as they grapple with a changing urban environment. The commercial strip has businesses that have been in the same location for generations but it also has empty retail space and vacant lots. KSDA is trying to help shape the course of change while preserving the important history and the existing character of a diverse neighborhood. I’ve been taking a large number of photographs of Kennedy Street as a resource for the series of paintings. I have a show coming up in the fall of 2016 at the Waverley Street Gallery in Bethesda and hope to complete maybe a dozen paintings of Kennedy Street in time for the opening.
In a year or two the neighborhood may change so much that another series of paintings could emerge. Maybe I’ll get to exhibit some of these urban paintings at a future CHAL show!
To see more of Cathy’s work, please visit her website. Thanks for sharing your story, Cathy, and readers, we’ll see you next month on the Mind of the Artist series!
CHAL promotes the visual arts in the Capitol Hill community and beyond. Their principal effort is to produce six juried exhibits and one non-juried holiday sale from September to May through which members can exhibit and sell their work. The juried exhibits are displayed at both the Gallery in CHAW as well as at external venues throughout the DC region. Learn more here!