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“It looks too high,” says Beverly Ryan.
“How high?” asks Sheep Jones, inching Jacqueline Saunders’ pen-and-ink drawing a little lower on the wall.
“Three-eighths of an inch? Half an inch?” Ryan directs. They stand back.
“Still a little cockeyed,” muses Jones, and the two move back in to adjust the painting.
Jones and Ryan look like a couple of middle-aged former soccer momsand indeed, the two hail from the Northern Virginia suburbs. They are also members of SOOP, a sixsome whose art show, “SOOP’s Hot,” opened Wednesday at the 505 Gallery on 7th Street NW.
The thing is, when you think “suburban,” you don’t usually think “artist.” And when you think “suburban soccer mom,” maybe you think “artist” as in “watercolor Christmas cards,” but you don’t think “8-foot nudes of the Clean Plate Club,” and you definitely don’t think “unsettling pictures of carrots.”
In the show, Ryan’s chaotic abstracts mix with Saunders’ clean nudes and Jones’ haunting oils of chopped houses and underground roots. Along one wall, Jane Hahler’s more traditional land- and cityscapes butt up against the geometric etchings of Judith Coady. In the corner, Ardath Hill’s giant, well-fed nudes overlook the rest of the room.
Five years ago, Ryan got the idea for SOOPartists, she says, who work “by the Seat of Our Pants”as a critical group where she could get feedback on her work from other artists. “I wanted to have a critiquer,” she says. “I used to be a fiber artist, and I missed that group interaction that we had [in our fiber artists’ group], where like minds could come together.”
Ryan and Saunders, newly hatched empty-nesters, recruited four fellow students, all from the Torpedo Factory’s Art League School at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. All are primarily painters, except Coady, who does etchings and pastels. “I didn’t care as much what you did as that you were good artists on equal footing,” says Ryan. Most of the women began painting full time only after raising families.
Though the six interact often through classes, workshops, and carpools, SOOP officially meets only once a month, in one or another of the women’s homes. Each member brings a few works in progress to the get-together for a group critique. “It’s good moral support,” says Ryan. But the group isn’t just a sienna- and umber-enhanced kaffeeklatsch. “They’re people with very good eyes, very specific about what they like and don’t like,” says Hahler.
Ryan thinks part of the chemistry lies in how well the different artworks look when placed together. “We show well together,” she says. “I was with another group before this one, and we didn’t show well at allwhich is part of why that group sort of fizzled out.”
Still, says Hahler, the artists don’t let the joint effort undermine the individuality of their work: “Just because we collaborate together doesn’t mean we’re alike.” Robin Bingham