From July 30th – August 31st, 2014, Washington Printmakers Gallery presents the 17th Annual National Small Works Exhibition. This exhibition displays thirty non-members’ works originating from across the country and selected by juror Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the Katzen Center at American University. Running concurrently is the solo exhibition Waiting for Godot by the 2013 grand prizewinner, Diane Alire. Alire’s exhibition features twenty unique photogravures, which “juxtapose and layer the female and male figures with landscapes, images of walls, graffiti, and textures found in natural and urban settings.”
Alire’s work explores the human figure in artistic ways. She makes the figure a part of landscape and the world around it. Portraiture and landscape come together to create contemporary prints that surprise and challenge the viewer. Her 2013 Small Works prizewinning piece, Waiting for Godot, sets the tone for the exhibition. This piece explores the costumed female dancer figure, while the rest of the exhibition explores figures in the nude, particularly Shaded. Shaded juxtaposes a female nude, waist up, against a window. The female and window alternate foreground with background, and in a sense, the piece surrenders those two labels. In one way, the female is the subject in the window, and in another way, the female stands before the window. How are human figures reflected in our surroundings and how do our surroundings house those figures? Alire contrasts soft human curves against hard angular structures. Shaded acts as a window into the artistic mind where wall and figure combine to create one subject matter, which Alire masters.
While Alire’s exhibition explores similar themes in various interpretations, this year’s National Small Works Exhibition takes on many artists with unique themes, few which are similar. From pears to numbers, the Small Works exhibition exemplifies subjects’ and printmaking’s variety and potential. Elizabeth Dove’s All Letters demonstrates the many levels that make a print. Dove layers letters A – Z to create a simple yet complex print. Solely black and white, this print allows the letters to act as the work’s main focus. The artist takes a familiar concept, letters of the alphabet, and makes it art. She complicates and plays with our preconceived idea of what the alphabet should look like on paper. In this print, components of literature become art and art becomes literature. Much like Diane Alire’s works, All Letters plays with two concepts that become one.