Rose’s Turn: The Power of Painting with Pink

Ah, the time-honored summer art exhibition: when art galleries and dealers in big cities try to keep themselves from falling asleep out of boredom, waiting for customers to drop by.  The reader may not be aware, but from a business perspective, the selling of art is often as seasonal as is the selling of other commodities, from bikinis to snowplows. Just as art dealers in vacation areas tend to languish during the period between the end and the start of their area’s high season, so too galleries in urban areas often suffer from the doldrums during the summer vacations of their regular clientele.

To counteract this, a summer exhibition is a great way to generate some interest in what might otherwise be a period of lethargy.  The Royal Academy in London, for example, started hosting its annual Summer Exhibition way back in 1769, which over the centuries has proven to be a hugely profitable venture not only for the Royal Academy, but for the artists exhibited there and the galleries nearby.  The Academy gets a percentage of the proceeds of any of the works sold at the show, and the London art dealers rather than packing up and fleeing to the Rivera in search of their clients, will typically host their own, brief shows around the same time, so that potential collectors can drop by and see their works, as well.

Such is the case, I imagine, with the brief run of “Everything’s Rosy” at Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown, which opened this past Friday.  The exhibition features a selection of works by a number of artists, all working in very different styles and with no thematic program, yet all are connected by their use of the color rose – or pink, depending on how you look at it, which of course for my Catholic readers brings back the old canard about the color of the priestly vestments for Gaudete and Laetare Sunday.  Appropriately enough, the opening reception for the show was accompanied by cocktails made with strawberries, rose sparkling wine, and Saint Germain.  My charming companion and I noted the refreshing recipe for future use, as we looked at the many types of painting on display, and chatted with one of the (always very gracious) gallery staff.

Pink is a color which today we often associate with the feminine – blue for boys, pink for girls – even though for centuries, that formula was reversed.  In an article about child-rearing in the venerable “Ladies’ Home Journal” published in June 1918, we read that when choosing a color for a baby’s clothing, outside of easy-to-bleach white, “the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”  One may also note that in traditional Catholic images of the Madonna and Child, the Virgin Mary is almost always depicted wearing blue, and there are many examples of the Christ Child wearing pink.

It is the boldness of pink as a color, much like the use of red, which tends to attract the eye; such a powerful shade can often completely dominate an image, unless the artist is careful.  What is appealing about the Susan Calloway show is how the selection of works speaks to a variety of tastes, but nothing hits you over the head with “PINK”, like walking into a child’s bedroom.  Yes, there are a few very charming, dare one say “pretty” images, but there are also some bold, textural pieces as well, which use pink in different ways.

Take for example an arresting painting by David Ivan Clark titled “Untitled (Still #69)”, a very horizontal work which features a gradation of color from pale gray to puce to black.  There is nothing “Hello Kitty” about this picture, and despite its substantial horizontality, it is a decidedly masculine-feeling piece.  Another work in the show, “Departures” by Janet Fry Rogers, features gleaming squares of silver leaf atop an underpainting of a deep, hot pink, reminding the viewer of the techniques employed in Medieval and Early Renaissance panel painting.  If, like this scrivener, you have certain magpie tendencies, you cannot help but be enthralled by the piece, so arresting is the juxtaposition of the bright undertone with the burnished, gleaming surface.

Arguably the star of the show is “Magnolia Swimwater” by Allison Hall Copley, a very large work on canvas which greets you as you enter the gallery.  Interestingly enough, the piece is framed, rather than stretched, leaving the unfinished edges of the piece exposed to look almost like rag paper.  The composition is a huge swirl of colors, a shower of bright pinks, oranges and blues against the plain white canvas.  Copley gives a wonderful sense of movement and flight to the painting, like a host of flower petals being caught up in a whirlwind and falling to earth again.

Although these three highlighted works are examples of different types of abstraction, those with an aversion to the non-representational need not fear. “Everything’s Rosy” additional features a number of charming, representational pieces, from artists such as the extremely talented landscape artist Ed Cooper, among others.  This is truly one of those bright and cheerful shows which has something for everyone, not only asking the visitor to consider pink in different ways, but also proving to be quite refreshing during yet another oppressively Washingtonian July.

“Everything’s Rosy” at Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown runs from July 11th to July 22nd.

The wonderfully-textured "Departures" by Janet Fry Rogers,  looking great against the textured white brick walls at Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown

The wonderfully textured “Departures” by Janet Fry Rogers,
looking great against the textured white brick walls at Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown



Paris When It Glows

American painter Rodgers Naylor’s new exhibition at Susan Calloway Fine Art here in Georgetown opened this past Saturday evening, and I was fortunate enough to attend the opening reception with a group of friends. I was impressed by Naylor’s understanding of late afternoon light, as well as his technique and use of unexpected color choices to create certain elements of his painting. The show, which runs through April 21st, is definitely worth seeing if you find yourself in the nation’s capital over the coming weeks, particularly because it looks as though most of the paintings have already sold, and will be disappearing into private collections for the next 50-odd years.

“A Journey From Paris To The South” is a collection of oils by native Washingtonian/Colorado resident Rodgers Naylor, recalling his travels through France last year. Picturing scenes from the French capital, as well as the countryside of places like Burgundy and Provence, the show is very easy to like. From the moment you approach the gallery on Wisconsin Avenue, you are put in the mood of what you are about to see by the display in the large bay window in the front of the building, which features a large canvas of Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre, alongside several smaller works.

Naylor clearly enjoys painting views of the French countryside, such a group of hay bales that look like sheep in a field, or its rolling geography – excuse me, “terroir” – from which fine French wine comes.  However he also enjoys painting Parisian cityscapes, such as the dark waters of the Seine around a sunken bridge pier, or a bistro along one of Haussmann’s boulevards opening up for that evening’s diners.  There is a variety of work on show that will appeal to any collector’s individual tastes and preferences with respect to landscape painting.

This is a good opportunity to describe how reproductions in a book, or even online, never teach us as much about a work of art as does up-close, in person examination, and why I always want to encourage my readers to go to galleries or museums and take a look at art in person, to understand and appreciate how it is made. For example in this exhibition, I was struck by Naylor’s technique with respect to how he achieves a sense of motion, which does not necessarily “read” when one is looking at one of his pictures online. In portraying a moving vehicle, Naylor paints a square of pale, almost margarine yellow, and pulls away from it, creating an impression of moving light without actually creating streaks: a quite clever and effective way of achieving this effect.

A related, unusual technique of Naylor’s is demonstrated in how he forms the branches and leaves of a tree or a vine. Most of us if asked to draw something like a shrub would probably draw some curvy, lumpy thing on a stick.  The end result would look almost inevitably more like a clump of broccoli, rather than a large plant.

Instead of painting in such a curvilinear and literal way, however, Naylor essentially paints a series of squares. He then runs these into one another to create leaves, branches, and ultimately the form of the tree, vine, etc. that he is representing. Again, this is something that one cannot appreciate in an online photograph or exhibition catalogue, but when you are able to look at the painting up close and realize how it was done, you realize that the painter has thought about how to create a realistic effect, without trying to reproduce exactly what one sees with the naked eye.

In addition, Naylor’s color choices are often very inventive indeed, and must be seen at close quarters to be understood. In painting a scene at sunset for example, he will use a rather bright purple or pink that one does not necessarily notice at first. Only on further investigation does one realize that the dark portions of his trees are full of lilac and lavender, or the corners of his buildings have fuchsia streaks along them.

And my goodness, does Naylor love light. He is particularly adept at contrasts of light and shadow in late afternoon, just before sunset, where one can “see” his use of a bright, truly cheerful use of the color orange – he even uses a rather bright orange in his signature, as one of my companions for the opening pointed out.  In his views of vineyards and fields, the various oranges employed make you want to go spend some time in the sun enjoying the harvest, or traveling along an allée of trees from one village to the next.  While on the whole I found his paintings to succeed better when the scale of the people portrayed within them were kept smaller, or more obscured, he is a man who clearly enjoys being outside in the fresh air observing both man and nature as they go about their business, and he wants others to enjoy observing this with him.

To be able to spend an evening looking at bright and cheerful pictures of Paris and the French countryside, on an otherwise gloomy and rainy evening in early Spring, was a pleasure in and of itself. Especially in his smaller paintings, Naylor evokes that sense of the personal and intimate which one finds in the smaller-scale work of artists such as Renoux, where large spaces are represented on a small scale.  In both large and small formats, he delights the eye with an explosion of cheerful color and interesting technique all his own, and hopefully my readers in the Washington area will get the chance to enjoy it for themselves.

Patrons at the opening on Friday evening