Local Artists Fringe Ward 2 in 24 Hours of Color
on a ladder fixing the face of Jesus, Dana Ellyn avoided the blazing
sun in the late afternoon as shade fell on the bright orange wall she
detailed. It made sense, after all, that she and fellow artist Matt
Sesow begin their round-the-clock mural painting session at 3 p.m. so
as to avoid having their sweat drip into the bottles and boxes of paint
Not that such a thing would have been frowned
upon; it was a 24-hour act of painting associated with the Capital
Fringe Festival. This year, the first-annual festival brought together
hundreds of artists for over 400 shows in eleven days: a mind boggling
range of performances, some experimental and others on the verge of
wacky. Unlike the theatre performances however, the mural will become a
permanent part of the 7th Street landscape, though Ellyn and Sesow
expected their mural to be a work in progress even after they finished.
"We expect that people will write on itâ that's fine" Sesow
commented. "We know it will change"
After coming to terms
with the scale of the project and the texture of hundreds of staples
jammed into the wooden storefront, the artists began their work with
house-paint and acrylics. Describing the painting as â€œfree and looserâ
than the studio work they are used to, each of the painters filled the
space with large figures. "Picasso and Diego Rivera rip-offs" Sesow
commented of his half of the mural. The painting, after just three
hours, depicted large scale artists and laborers, a figure of Jesus
looking down on the current state of affairs and a lady voyeur sipping
a drink in the corner.
Before the artists got
there, you might say the wall Ellyn and Sesow covered (a long-abandoned
storefront adjacent to the Warehouse Theatre) had their names on it.
When Fringe festival director, Julianne Brienza, thought of the idea of
the mural, she and Warehouse co-director, Molly Rupert, immediately
chose the duo - local painters and a couple - who had showed work at
The Warehouse served as home base for the festival this year, hosting a majority of productions and events.
not used to being watched as we paint" Sesow commented in regards to
on-lookers. "People always think the painting is done, no matter the
stage" he said. Not soon after, a man stopped to ask if they would
paint around the corner of the building. Sesow also admitted that the
painting might be "influenced by working at 2 a.m. after a few beers."
Yet at the beginning stages, the figures are clear and deliberate, and
the colors are bold.
The history of the Fringe Festival
dates back to 1947, when eight uninvited performance groups arrived at
the exclusive Edinburgh International Festival and staged a series of
guerilla performances. Cities across the US have adopted the tradition,
with DC as the 76th location to make space for the peculiar and
particular in local art.
"Besides art-o-matic, the Fringe
Festival is really the only grass-roots venue for support of the visual
arts [in DC]," commented Sesow, who now supports himself entirely
through the sale of his paintings. He describes DC as a
"gallery-centric city, where you have to sign an uber-contract and give
up your soul to sell a painting for 50 percent [of the profit]." Both
artists say that venues like the Fringe allow artists to show and sell
directly to patrons which ultimately benefits artistic production in
the city. Ellyn and Sesow painted well into the wee morning hours for
free this time, however, to "enjoy the process of making art . . . it's
fun to support the Fringe" Sesow commented.
Matt Sesow will hold an open studio on Aug. 5 from Noon- 6 p.m., www.sesow.com, 202-319-1459. Dana Ellyn will hold her open studio on Aug. 12 from Noon - 6 p.m., www.danaellyn.com, 202-737-6161. For more Capital Fringe Festival details, visit www.capfringe.org