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Since it opened in May, the Otis Street Arts Project has primarily been used as a studio space for artists. But every now and then, it’ll open up its doors to host regular artist talks, critiques, figure drawing sessions, and parties—all in the spirit of creative community collaboration. Through November, the space is hosting its first guest-curated exhibition of works created by artists not working at the studio. The unifying theme is a brazen use of materials to produce almost other-worldly pieces of art.
Molly Ruppert curated “CO-EXIST,” which features the works of local artists Eric Celarier, Glenn Richardson, and Albert Schweitzer. Celarier creates winged creatures out of detritus, Richardson carves fallen trees with a chainsaw, and Schweitzer’s childlike paintings feature brightly colored character portraits on canvas.
Celarier’s flying objects—by far the standout works of the show—hang from the ceiling and cling to walls like birds or giant insects. Each is made from dozens of discarded items. Every time you look closely at one of the pieces, you see a few new objects you hadn’t noticed before. Broken iPods, hoses, oxygen tanks, car bumpers, remote controls, hand vacs, windshield wipers, and Listerine bottles fit nicely into each other to create garbage beasts so imaginative, they’re almost believable. And yet Celarier never attempts to hide his humble materials.
“Crafting creatures from refuse,” he writes in his artist statement, “I lend form to the idea that all future flora and fauna can be seen as byproducts of our existence.” The materials are as integral to the meaning of the works as water is to all living things.
Part of Celarier’s “Alternative Evolution” series, these mythical creatures often have wings suggestive of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines, but many also contain circuit boards. They’re sci-fi hybrids of the past and present (with a stern warning about the possible future). Fitting into the artist’s evolutionary narrative, the titles are Latin names, reminiscent of binomial nomenclature—Ipsum hyacinto (blue button), Vidua dux (window guide), Kaput rubrun (red head).
Scattered throughout the exhibition space, Glenn Richardson’s tree carvings include a dragon bench and a few dinosaur-like skeletons. (A pterodactyl/flying fish fittingly hangs from the ceiling near Celarier’s birds.) Carved out of a single tree, most of the skeletons tower over you, with long necks, bird feet, and giant hands or feet where their heads should be.
The combination of charred wood and skeletal subject matter is more strikingly morbid than Celarier’s winged garbage creatures, but the sentiment behind them is quite similar: Richardson laments the loss of trees as humans continue to expand cities and colonize the natural world.
Schweitzer’s paintings, on the other hand, deal more with human emotion than the relationships between people and nature. I’m still not entirely convinced that the works fit into the show’s theme of using materials differently, but in Schweitzer’s case, the interpretation of “materials” may simply be less literal.
Schweitzer says he likes the circus and Mardi Gras, and the characters he paints are obviously influenced by that kind of aesthetic. Vibrantly colored, they represent “the various states of the human condition”; they look like paintings you might find at Baltimore’s Visionary Art Museum.
In fact, all three artists take aesthetic cues from outsider and folk art, often with a nod to Native American traditions. Many of Richardson’s chainsaw carvings resemble totem poles, while Celarier’s sculptures call to mind the work of Brian Jungen—a contemporary First Nations artist from British Columbia, whose creatures made out of plastic chairs and suitcases were featured at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian five years ago.
Through a humility of materials and a reach into humankind’s relationships with itself and its surroundings, each artists’ work elicits a sense of wonder—no matter how conventional or unconventional their process may be.
3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier. Free. (202) 550-4634. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit.