In mid-July, five local artists hung and rehung their work on the walls of a local gallery, debating how to present two video installations, three paintings, and several photographs so that they would best complement each other in a group show called “E1: Contemplating Process.” For four months, these artists—Esther Hidalgo, Lara Oliveira, Katherine Radke, Christopher Saah, and Dylan Scholinski—had been meeting at the gallery regularly to share and discuss their work as well as glean art-world insights from gallerists and curators.
They met deadlines and worked hard to avoid unexcused absences, but the artists weren’t in art school; neither were they, initially, friends. They were participating in the Exercises for Emerging Artists, the Transformer gallery’s new peer-critique and mentorship program, which aims to be more practical, and also more nurturing, than typical art classes.
“We were looking for people who weren’t connected to a school or group,” says gallery co-owner Jayme McLellan, who founded the Logan Circle space with Victoria Reis two years ago in part because she wanted to create a support network for artists who weren’t yet established. Accordingly, McLellan and Reis convened an advisory council made up of two well-known local artists (Trish Tillman and Dan Steinhilber) and two artist-curators (Ken Ashton and McLellan), and chose eight upcoming artists who they thought would benefit from the program. Because the pilot went smoothly, the council is about to select artists for a new session, to start in October.
McLellan says she was surprised that “the ones who we’d thought would be the most hungry”—the artists who hadn’t been to art school—were the first to drop out. The five remaining participants were all involved in the academic art world to some degree. Hidalgo and Radke, both Transformer interns, graduated from the Corcoran College of Art & Design this year; the others either have attended art school or are about to do so.
Except for Scholinski, 38, whose paintings focus on abuse and gender identity, the artists are in their mid-20s. Scholinski, a well-known transgendered author and activist, says he found the recognition from Transformer valuable because “people have felt that I’ve already gotten attention so I don’t need any help now.”
Because most of the artists’ discussions focused on process, Hidalgo, who uses black-and-white and color negatives to make traditional prints of human figures submerged in water, had plenty of opportunity to discuss the fine points of photography. Saah, who shoots deserted cityscapes with his grandfather’s Leica and then relies on Photoshop to create vivid, color-saturated images of parking lots and stairwells, urged her to go digital during an especially heated and fruitful conversation. Hidalgo was tempted, she says, but ultimately declined.
Oliveira, an adjunct professor at George Mason University, and Radke, who is currently working on a project about Midwestern spiritualist conferences, are also photographers—but both chose to do video installations for the group show. Radke’s Hot Monstrosity, which plays inside a monitor covered in mirrors, focuses on a pair of legs, feet clad in high heels, that squirm around on a glue-covered linoleum floor. Oliveira’s The Molding Zone reveals the hidden patterns in such processes as crumpling paper and shuffling cards.
Saah, Scholinski, and Hidalgo all say that it was the Exercises’ focus on presenting work to, and at, galleries that was most helpful to them. “[The benefit] was more in terms of discussions [with professionals] and not necessarily what you would see on the wall,” says Saah. —Bidisha Banerjee
“E1: Contemplating Process” is on view to Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. For more information, call (202) 483-1102.