By PAUL HRUSA — The latest hallway-as-gallery concept in the Arts District is Portico, housed in the front of the Studio 3807 apartment complex at the corner of Rhode Island Ave and 38th Street in Brentwood. Hopefully this proximity of art to residency results in more collectors and patrons of the arts in the Arts District for years to come. In addition to the gallery, Portico also includes four active studio spaces adjacent to the hallway. Each studio is occupied by a practicing artist also displaying their works in various stages of completion, competing with the actual exhibit in the hallway. While the Portico hallway is comfortably wide enough for visitors and sufficiently lengthy to display a healthy number of smaller paintings, it is unaccommodating for viewing larger work from a distance. Perhaps one of these adjacent studio spaces could be a dedicated gallery space to accommodate larger works or series.
Portico’s current exhibit, Paint + Pigment + Color, is a nicely lit three-person show of apartment-sized abstract paintings by Emily Conover, Pat Goslee, and Steve Wanna. The paintings are consistently pleasant to look at but don’t always look back. Nothing surprises or lingers. Despite inconvenient viewing hours and nonexistent parking directions on the Portico website, this exhibit is worth your consideration and attendance if you would like to see some painting nearby and support the local art scene.
Conover’s work is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s all-over compositions circa 1944 combined with a bit of Gabrielle Münter’s arcing black landscape lines from around 1908. The paintings are collaged with black, white, gray, and brown painted fragments overlapping other similarly painted fragments into a post-cubist architecture. Conover’s effective collaging forms professional, tightly-composed abstractions and movements across the surface in a balanced and harmonious fashion.
Goslee is an established DC painter exhibiting in the Arts District for the first time since 2015. The paintings are composed in her usual palette of orange, brown, yellow, and blue washes receding and intensifying beneath surrealist latticework veils, grids, and stenciled morphisms. When Goslee uses black as a framing device, it causes the color to pop a bit more but betrays an over-reliance on the middle of the compositional space, which ends up squeezing the composition into near-illustration. Nonetheless, her application of paint onto the surface is direct, efficient, and well-trained.
Wanna works in various media including the framed exercises on paper in this exhibit. His paintings are illustrations of throwing paint-filled eggs at paper and recording the Ralph Steadman-like splatter of the detritus. They are colorful and eye-catching and ready for Instagram, but there is no depth or rigor to the work. However successfully illustrative of process they may be, these paintings are simple tricks that cheapen abstract painting into the misleading “my kid could do that” territory.
In his artist statement, Wanna expresses interest in “beauty that emerges without great intervention” and capturing “the moment of creation” and other talk of “ecosystems.” The act of throwing eggs proves his thesis. The problem for Wanna is that he considers the simple act of throwing eggs sufficient to solving the problems of painting. There are a couple of his paintings which double up and overlap the egg bursts and this is a good direction to explore. Otherwise, without evidence of any ecosystem resulting from singular moments of creation and emergent beauty, these egg-splosion paintings on their own are just dying stars.
Paint + Pigment + Color is on view through Feb. 23 at Portico Gallery and Studios, inside Studio 3807, located at 3807 Rhode Island Ave. in Brentwood. Viewing hours are Thursdays 7-9 p.m. and Saturdays 12-3 p.m. or by appointment.
ArtBurn is a column reviewing local art. Paul Hrusa is a painter who lives and works in Hyattsville. His work has been exhibited in New York City, Washington, DC, and Richmond, among other places. You can find more about him at his website.