To say there are a lot of artist studios in the Northern Virginia area would be an overstatement, but there are certainly a couple that are recognizable.
The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton come to mind immediately. However, as Jay Young Gerard, modern artist, notes the Columbia Pike Artist Studios is a well kept secret.
“People say ‘oh you mean like the Torpedo Factory.’ And I say, ‘no, not like the Torpedo Factory.’ That’s what I really like about it.”
The Torpedo Factory, for example, is more widely known than Columbia Pike because it is open to the public. Visitors can come in and out of the Alexandria studio.
“The Torpedo Factory is a very commercial enterprise. You have to be there a certain amount of time, you have to sell a certain amount of stuff, you have to participate in community activities, and be open to the public. It has a lot of rules and requirements,” Gerard commented. “[The Columbia Pike Artist Studios] don’t. This is strictly for serious artists who want to come in and paint and go home. If they want to stay there all night, they can stay there all night, it’s open 24/7.”
However, they do open up the studio for their annual, public, and free open house. This year’s fall pARTy will take place at the studio this Saturday Nov. 14 at 6:00 p.m.
There, visitors can see the work of the 27 resident artists. The studio prides itself in accepting artists with varying styles and backgrounds.
For example, one artist, Sarah Bentley, has an in depth background in classical academic Italian art. The 27-year-old studied for three years at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy.
“You show up, you do the work and if it’s good enough you move onto the next project. If it’s not good enough, you keep working on what you are working on until it is good enough. There’s no grading process, there’s no failing. The only way you can fail is by dropping out, which plenty of people do,” she said. “So that’s where I come from. I come from this very strict, technical; you-keep-working-at-it until it’s good.”
Bentley’s decision to study the classical school of art sprouted from her first degree, which she received in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She graduated in 2009 in a poor economy and needed an edge.
“I’m trying to draw and paint things, while I have a very good understanding of composition and color theory, I didn’t have the technical draftsman skill. That’s what I went to Angel to learn and that’s what they gave me,” she said.
For her interest in illustration, the classic Italié school was perfect.
“If you look at the golden age illustrators, at a time when dada and modernism was becoming very popular, you have all these people who were working in oil paints because printing at the time was atrocious …” Bentley said. “For example, Howard Pyle is the grandfather of all golden age of illustration in America. He was really one of the people who kept up a very traditional sense of painting in the US. His students were artists like Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth. And so they kept up this tradition from life, from the models, rendering that tree in front of us realistically. So that someone who had never looked at that tree could see the painting, and if they see the tree they know the tree. But because they are illustrators they’ll add something fantastic into it.”
Other artists include CinCin Fang who attended an “art boot camp” in China and graduated from Princeton University. Her art echoes her interest in human rights. Artist Vladimir Zabavsky’s work reflects his background in art history, medieval calligraphy, philosophy, and growing up in Europe.
To show off this diversity at the event, Gerard came up with the idea to include a piece called “Small Multiples.”
“I don’t know if you know who Edward Tufte is, but he is a Yale mathematician who has kind of revolutionized the art world on many levels. He came up with a phrase called ‘small multiples,’ which is a very effective visual technique. It’s like lining up M&M’s. They’re all the same, but different colors. It provides visual impact … So it’s the same thing multiplied over and over again,” she explained. “I came up with that idea of hanging that whole huge wall [in the main gallery space] with all of our work, but all in little pieces. None of them are bigger than 13-by-13.”
In one look, visitors can see the breadth and different styles of the Columbia Pike Artist Studios in one big curatorial piece. Perhaps the piece will also give insight into what the studio means for the people who rent the space.
“Columbia Pike Artist Studios was the first one that I could afford and it was just by serendipity. I applied to them and a week later they had an opening,” Bentley said. “I wasn’t first on their waitlist but I was the only person who looked at the studio and said yes.”