One of the most inventive and sophisticated art forms is mixed media. More than one medium is combined in an expressive manner to create a work of art. Mixed media began around 1912 with the cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. The medium became increasingly open and widespread as ideas of art evolved and experimental combinations were tested.
Mixed media flourishes in our area, and the current twin exhibits at the Kentlands Mansion and Arts Barn represent mixed media as it lives today. The mansion offers the work of more than 20 individual artists, and the exhibit showcases a myriad of styles and images. The entrance presents textural neutrals, notably by Michael Kuchinsky, and the unusual ensemble collages of Jeff Bohlander—a game box, toy figures as well as an interesting piece upstairs called “Maternus Derivation”—and my own print, “Leaflet.”
The main gallery displays many striking pieces, notably those by Sandra Davis and Jeanne Sullivan. Davis uses repurposed papers in her creations, many centering on an African American female theme like her “Sisters in Words.” “I’m fascinated by work in black and white … the challenge to make it speak,” Davis said. Her “Sumaki” is a shimmering collage of colorful fish. Her “Garden Dreamer” is a contemplative inspiration of wild flowers in her friend’s garden—“It literally felt as if you could sit and drink lemonade there all day,” she reminisced.
Prolific local artist Jeanne Sullivan’s “Historic Paris Metro” immediately catches one’s eye with its circular movement and pieces of a Paris Metro map surrounded by subdued colors that suggest an aged document. “I love the history behind it,” Sullivan said. Multiple kinds of paper are used. These are burned to texturize and treated with alcohol and tea to stain and give them the patina of old papers. “I love the application of different textures in paper … found papers and how they interact,” Sullivan noted. Her love for Japanese woodcuts is shown in her homage to them, “Yearning for Spring,” that incorporates pieces from a Japanese dictionary.
At the foot of the stairs is Alexey Zoob’s colorfully large “Carnival Couple” that hints at an Indian summer evening with its boldness. A few steps up is Shyam Rele’s bright “Skyline” created with paint, modeling paste and gloss medium. “I try to look for symmetry in abstract. As a scientist, I look for avenues of symmetry like nature, a certain level of balance. I’m a colorful guy!” he said, laughing.
Rele’s work continues at the top of the stairs with his distinctive stamped plaster tiles “Connecting to the Past” and “Tracing History.” Using four layers of acrylic color on plaster of paris molds mounted on wood, the tiles are imprinted with stamps and forms from India. “I am fascinated by the three-dimensional stamping using recycled materials—true multimedia.” Rele said that the textile industry in India that once flourished is now dying. “The idea of melding the past and present and the roots of history … (it’s) a ‘lost ruins’ feeling,” he said.
Not to be outdone, the Arts Barn features five artists with truly unique mixed media collections. Cathy Wilkin’s eight expansive, colorful and shiny pieces are done with patterned cut papers, glazes, inks and gloss varnish on panels. “It’s that complementary color scheme, a continual prism, a nice balance,” Wilkin said. Fascinated by art deco, her pieces typically take a month of full-time work to complete. “There’s a lot going on. … I lie on the floor to start and then prop up the board and put in my details.” “Mycelium Lights” glows with its subterranean mushroom network and pulse of light and electricity. “Scientists say that the underground has an electrical current that extends for miles,” Wilkin explained. Her “June 1st” is a “a hot, muggy day in the forest”—dappled lights, buzz of insects and crickets.
Woodcrafter Thomas Sterner designs in natural wood. Of the many on display, the star was “81 Twigs”—a large, interactive piece of twigs that can be rearranged into endless combinations that was purchased during the show. “I like a 9×9 layout for a square of 81. There is always a buzz around it,” Sterner said. He knew he wanted to do interactive kinetic art that can move. Sticks and twigs are boiled to remove the bark and uncover the naked wood. “I like people being able to get up and touch artwork. It’s a big no-no, but I like the idea of it!” Sterner was trained as a printmaker and has done a lot of etching and low-relief sculptures incorporating wood with painted imagery and mirrors.
Three of the always stunning assemblages by Silver Spring artist Phyllis Mayes are also on display. They remind me of whimsical wedding cakes. Symbolic and surreal, the creations are joined through monochromatic paint. The highlight is her “Tower of Sculpture” taking its rightful place front and center at the Arts Barn entrance.
“Exploring Mixed Media” is on view at both the Kentlands Mansion (call 301.258.6425 to confirm hours prior to your visit) and the Arts Barn (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 1:30 to 5 p.m.) until Nov. 4.