“The Torpedo Factory Artists Association is a community of professional artists working in cooperation with the Torpedo Factory Art Center Board and the City of Alexandria to make this dynamic art center possible.”
When glass artist Alison Sigethy and sculptor Liz Lescault met through their mutual interest in kayaking, they discovered another odd and wonderful coincidence: both of them had an affinity for making forms that looked like otherworldly life.
Lescault quickly invited Sigethy to participate in an upcoming show at Waverly Street Gallery in Maryland, but despite the artists' shared enthusiasm, they faced a problem that called for an imaginative solution.
"Because we both have very busy schedules, we couldn't actually work on pieces together, so we started a process that worked really well for us," Sigethy explains. "One of us would make something, then hand it off to the other to complete."
That's the premise of "Fathom," in which several of the pieces combine the work of both artists to create a beautiful and eerie new body of work that merges the organic and the abstract. A soundscape by John Vengrouskie acoustically frames the installation, immersing visitors in a "contemplative refuge" where they marvel at the most beguiling life forms that never existed.
Look closely at these incredible creations and you may discern hints of a creative process that isn't easily put into words: two artists learning from each other while seeing their own work anew.
"We had so much fun working together that I'm sure we'll do it again," Sigethy says, "with one addition. The collaborative work is so seamless, people viewing the show can't tell who did what. Artistically, that's what we want—but adding a small photo of the original piece next to the completed work might make the finished piece even more compelling. We'll probably do that next time.”
Visitors to the Torpedo Factory are often delighted by the accessibility of the artists who work here—but last Friday, a painter who was juried into the Torpedo Factory only six weeks ago learned just how appreciative the public can be.
"A woman came in and was admiring my work," explains McCain McMurray. "Then she started admiring my apron. She complimented me on it—and said she'd like to have it."
After a brief and friendly negotiation over price—which included the purchase of a replacement at the Art League Store—the artist removed the paint-stained, three-year-old apron and bequeathed it to his happy visitor.
"She asked if I would sign it," he says. "So I had a bunch of paint on my palette and got a palette knife and signed it. I told her it would take several days for the paint to dry, and to be careful because oil paint won't come out if it gets on clothes. We folded it once, and she and her companion each took a side and headed off with her new treasure."
Construction 4.5: Landing Strip
Other artists might have been bemused by such an introduction to our "working artists, open studios" concept, but as it turns out, McMurray has long had a unique insider's perspective on the Torpedo Factory.
Construction 4.1: Tower
"As a young architect, I worked for Keyes Condon Florance, the architect of the building, and got to do some design work on it, as well as on the office building next door," the artist recalls. "I remember doing a pre-design survey and going through the building when it was in its 'homestead' phase, when artists had claimed and delineated their own spaces with their own expedient—and usually artistic—materials."
As McMurray settles in to his new digs, he's basking in the light that streams into his studio and is excited to be working among fellow artists, but his chats with the public are quickly defining his time here.
"I love being here," he says. "Since I’m subletting from Larry Morris, and his work is a big draw for adults and kids alike, it's particularly fun to take kids behind the curtain to see Larry's tools and machines. And, of course, it's a real pleasure to sell my work—a pleasure I could use some more of."
Meet McCain McMurray in studio 4 at the Torpedo Factory every Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and check out his painting online at www.mccainmcmurray.com.
Torpedo Factory jewelry maker Lisa Vershbow may currently live in Brussels—her husband is a U.S. diplomat—but for the past year, her mind has been on Sweden and Japan. Later this month, she'll participate in a show that opens on May 20 in Tokyo: a craft exhibition of eight international artists at the Embassy of Sweden.
"I'm the only American and one of two metalsmiths," Vershbow explains. "Each artist was presented with a challenge: to study Swedish design and culture over the past year and make works of art which demonstrate that influence."
Emergence series (brooches)
Called "Artfully Connected," the exhibition runs through June 2, 2013, and will feature fiber art, photography, basket making, painting, enameling, jewelry, and paper weaving—and a technological twist.
"The Swedish Embassy in Tokyo has a beautiful modern gallery where the exhibition will be on display," Vershbow says. "Each artist is being assigned a QR code which will enable Japanese visitors to see the 'story' that each artist wrote about their works, complete with links to the Swedish websites they explored during their research."
For others, imagining Swedish design for Japanese eyes from faraway Belgium might have been disorienting, but Vershbow embraced the opportunity to communicate across cultures through art.
"It was a wonderful project," she says. "The results will be pretty exciting."
Juried into the Torpedo Factory in 2012, E.E. McCollum has achieved renown for his photographic studies of light, shadow, motion, and especially the human form. While getting ready to join the Multiple Exposures Gallery on the third floor, McCollum paused to chat with us about the past, the future, and the artistic importance of now.
How did you get your start as a photographer?
I was fascinated by photography as a child, beginning at around six, when my parents gave me a Kodak twin-lens reflex for my birthday. I soon got started in the darkroom and loved how the image emerged from the white of the exposed paper. I was active in taking photos on and off through college and also had the pleasure of taking a course in the history of photography from Beaumont Newhall when he was at the University of New Mexico. Newhall started the photography division at the Museum of Modern Art and then was head of Eastman House in Rochester for many years. He had just come from Eastman when I took the class. He really helped me see how photography could be more than snapshots or pretty pictures, and that serious people had devoted much of their lives to getting it accepted as an art form.
Which led to a once-in-a-lifetime encounter?
Yes. One day, Newhall showed up for class accompanied by a guy with a cowboy hat, glasses, and a goatee. It was Ansel Adams.
What's the story behind your Cocoon series?
The series began with a wonderful figure model, Katlyn Lacoste, showing me a body cocoon she had. The body cocoon is a tube of stretchy fabric that can encase the entire person. For me, figure work is really a collaboration, and the models bring a lot to the work. Katlyn and I were near the end of a studio shoot and were casting around for something to finish up with, and Katlyn got into the cocoon.
"Cocoon Series #38"
I was initially struck by how the fabric defined the sculptural space around the body—and it all went from there. I also became interested in how the figure was only partially visible through the fabric, lending a feeling of mystery, and then how details showed up: seeing a face or part of the body through the mesh.
Most recently, I've been working with adding texture to the fabric by coating it with mud. The texture follows the contours of the fabric in really interesting ways. I'm especially pleased that a portfolio of the Cocoon series is appearing in the May/June 2013 issue of LensWork, a prominent fine-art photography journal.
Have you encountered any unexpected reactions to your nude photography?
I was surprised, but very pleased, when my work was included in LensWork. I've been surprised to find how many people appreciate my figure work and aren't put off by it. The nude figure can be controversial and not to everyone's liking. Maybe it's just the company I keep!
How is your new project photographing dancers coming along?
What amazingly talented folks! As a starting place, I took a workshop in New York with Lois Greenfield, who is a very well known dance photographer. We worked with top-tier New York professional dancers with affiliations like Alvin Ailey Dance and Paul Taylor. It was a wonderful experience—and I'm finding some equally talented dancers here in D.C.
What would you say to Torpedo Factory visitors who can't shake that nagging urge to make art?
I came back to photography about ten years ago, when a colleague and dear friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness. While I was happy in the work I was doing, the illness made me wonder if it was all I wanted to do with my life. The urge to make art had been dormant a long time, but it re-emerged. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I not listened to the lesson of my friend’s illness and ultimate death. Time is short. Listen to your soul.
If you've seen the striking black-and-white ceramics of Lori Ehrlich Katz, you've encountered a beguiling interplay of elegance and functionality that draws the eyes of curators and the general public alike. Katz's work was recently included in "Tribute to Ceramics," an exhibition of non-functional clay works at the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Maryland, and is featured at Wantoot, a gallery of modern art and craft in Wisconsin.
This month, Katz is prominently represented in "Game, Set, Match," a juried exhibition at Baltimore Clayworks focusing on service wares, "objects that contain or deliver food, drink, or seasonings"—a subject that perfectly suits her artistic process.
"Sometimes I work with the idea of a group from the moment I pull out my clay in the morning," Katz says. "Other times, individual pieces become a group as I consider the balance and relationship of one component to another."
According to Baltimore Clayworks, this new exhibition "will feature the best in ceramic design: hand-made objects that have a playful twist on functionality or that possess a quiet craftsmanship." Chat with Katz for a while in her studio and you'll soon discern that it requires incredible thoughtfulness and skill to find a combination of playfulness, functionality, and beauty that brings smiles to the faces of Torpedo Factory visitors.
"I work in sets," she says. "Whether functional, tableware, or decorative wall pieces, my work is 'of a family,' related by design and process—components of the greater whole that is the body of my work."