Soft Power

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Essay by Kate Sable 16 July – 25 August, 2022


SOFT POWER The artist’s studio is a paradox, it is at once inward and outward facing—artists retreat to the private world of their studio, in order to make work for the public eye. The invitation to curate this exhibition of artists working in the greater DC area was a welcome opportunity to return to visiting artists’ studios. As a consequence of the pandemic, these were my first in-person studio visits since 2019. In each studio I saw different ways that these artists navigated the period of relative isolation and prolonged uncertainty. I found that, in all cases, the creative impulse endured and adapted to surrounding adversity, and that artmaking was often functioning as a form of communication and connectedness. Artists who live in and around the nation’s capital do so within the shadow of the political arena; many believe that to make politically relevant work here, one must make politically loud work. It is regrettable when overtly political artworks overshadow more reflective responses to collective events. With this show I sought out abstract work that meets the strident politicization of our times with a gentle inner strength—demonstrating how, within a society that often seems intent on opposition and antagonism, artists seek ways to constructively create.


Jean Jinho Kim Good Vibes 3, 2022 Aluminum pipe, powder coating, 90 x 49 x 4 inches

Jean Jinho Kim’s sculptures have often inventively reconfigured the light industrial materials found at any hardware store, creating assemblages that she typically presented in gallery settings. In response to the lockdowns and closures— and irregular gallery hours—she began working with aluminum, creating new sculptural works that had the resilient materiality to be exhibited outdoors. These works became more vividly colored and figuratively gestural, as seen in Good Vibes 3 (2022), a work which aimed to brighten people’s lives during those dark months. With these more durable and publicly accessible pieces, the artist sought to express everyday humanity and resilience, with the intention of creating monuments dedicated to hope.


Sue Crawford Left: Melpô, 2022, Acrylic gouache on canvas, 44 x 40 inches Right: Calliope, 2022, Acrylic gouache on canvas, 44 x 40 inches

Sue Crawford’s textile-based pieces came about as a reaction to her previously hard-angled works. Crawford describes them as an embodiment of her meditation practice, exploring line connections that mimic a labyrinth of thought. The works initially present as non-objective tubular systems, catalyzed by mark-making. Close inspection of the pretzel-like entanglements reveals recognizable forms behind the patterning—although somewhat elusive, and perhaps only intended for the artist herself, humor is evident in these representations. During our visit, Crawford discussed her fascination with pareidolia, the tendency to see familiar shapes such as faces, in random visual ambiguity, not unlike the Rorschach inkblot test. Abstractions of two muses, Tragedy and Ecstatic Harmony, can be found in Melpô (2022) and Calliope (2022), respectively.


Mary Anne Arntzen Pretty Sentimental, 2022 Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches

The riotous forms in Mary Anne Arntzen’s paintings feel alive, undulating in and out of visual cut outs and teetering rambunctiously around her canvases. The work playfully bounces between abstraction and illusionism, with figures and cast shadows that hover on the edge of legibility. In Pretty Sentimental (2022), the central form seems to warble and melt, giving the painting a distinct and slightly eccentric personality. Arntzen’s work often loosely references the figure—she described navigating stretches of recent solitude via the company offered by the personas embedded in the paintings, surrounding her in the studio like a gathering of friends. Her searching process allows both moments of ambiguity and directness to coexist, celebrating harmony and discord, humor and reverence.


Danni O’Brien Support for Peas After a Long Day of Play, 2021 Mixed media, 74 x 28 x 44 inches

Danni O’Brien’s cheeky sculptures are outwardly the most playful of the works in this exhibition— as a title like Horny Thorny Baby I (2021) makes clear—but there is a backbone of reflective criticality supporting them. The off-kilter sculptures celebrate precariousness, with each finding their own quirky balance. Her work’s unique presence activates any space where it is installed with an endearingly awkward energy. O’Brien’s work challenges material use and waste, while enshrining particular nostalgic objects. The found objects that are incorporated into the works often steer her color decisions and the overall feel of the works, making hers a process that offers a deeply personal, but direct response to the world around her.


Wayson R. Jones Clamshell Migration, 2022 Extra-coarse pumice gel, flashe on wood panel, 12 x 12 x 2 1/2 inches

Wayson Jones’s richly textured paintings are some of the most tender works in this exhibition, while also being the most color saturated. His works telegraph a dichotomous energy, in that their outsized presence stands in contrast to their intimacy of scale and surface. Jones’s focus on process and materiality in his paintings implies a strong and guiding sense of touch. Using scraps of acrylic paint and coarse pumice gel to build his compositions, the dimensionality of these works encapsulates the conversation between painting and sculpture that arose out of the selection of works for this show. A work like Clamshell Migration (2022) exemplifies another common thread running through the exhibition: a free approach that is guided more by intuition and the expressive potential of materials, than defined notions of medium.


All of the artworks in the exhibition embody a kind of soft power, to borrow a phrase from the politics of foreign policy. None of these artists are making didactic art with prescribed methods and outcomes—they are not trying to coerce their audience with a fixed viewpoint. The works in this show embrace the power of softness. Each of these artists has responded to the recent periods of turbulence and uncertainty— in DC and beyond—with a gentle, yet powerful, openness. Kate Sable Washington, DC, July 2022






Courtesy of the artist ©️Mary Anne Arntzen 16

Mary Anne Arntzen Mary Anne Arntzen was born in Riverside, California and lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. Her abstract paintings are self-contained worlds populated with forms that borrow from architecture, textiles, and cartoons, meeting the surrounding spaces like puzzle pieces or bodies merging. Arntzen received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Boston University. Recent exhibitions include a solo show Funny HaHa at Gettysburg College (PA), and Incongruent Animation at Mono Practice (Baltimore, MD). Other notable exhibitions include the Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, MD), The Painting Center (New York, NY), St. Charles Project (Baltimore, MD), and Resort Gallery (Baltimore, MD). She is the recipient of the Bethesda Painting Prize and Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist award in Painting, and she has been interviewed for Inertia Studio Visits and reviewed in The Baltimore City Paper. Arntzen has completed residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and the Wassaic Project. She served on the advisory committee for ICA Baltimore from 2013-2020. In addition to her painting practice, she is a conservation technician for textiles and objects at the Baltimore Museum of Art.


Sue Crawford Sue Crawford was born in Santa Barbara, California and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her practice is a meditative one in which the language of distance and topography are explored through imagined terrains, forwarded by line, void, and color. Crawford received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from Massachusetts College of Art and moved to Baltimore in 2007 where she was introduced to the fields of painting restoration and conservation, processes that have informed her current art practice in technique, momentum, and material. Recent exhibitions include a solo show, Lines are Feelings Too at Institute of Contemporary Art (Baltimore, MD), and group shows at Towson University (Towson, MD), Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and Institute of Contemporary Art (Baltimore, MD). Crawford is a two-time Sondheim Semifinalist.


Photograph by Andy Compton ©️Sue Crawford 19

Photograph by Kea Dupree ©️ Wayson R. Jones 20

Wayson R. Jones Wayson R. Jones is a painter, musician, and spoken-word artist. He received a degree in Music from University of Maryland and later went on to perform with renowned poet Essex Hemphill, as part of Washington DC’s pioneering Black gay and lesbian arts scene of the 1980s and ‘90s. The two performed in venues including Blues Alley, The Kennedy Center, and LaMama Theater (New York, NY), and appeared in Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston and Marlon Riggs Tongues Untied, both groundbreaking works in Black gay film. Wayson’s visual art is informed by these experiences and by an exuberant approach to materiality and process. He has participated in group shows at the University of Maryland David Driskell Center, Galerie Myrtis, Brentwood Arts Exchange, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Biggs Museum of American Art, and has had solo shows at BlackRock Center for the Arts, Arts/Harmony Hall, Northern Virginia Community College, DCAC, and Prince Georges County Publick Playhouse. His work has been reviewed in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, BmoreArt, and East City Art. Wayson received a 2017 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council. His work has been acquired by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Maryland/National Capitol Park and Planning Commission, MGM National Harbor, and The Hotel at the University of Maryland, and is in private collections nationally. He is represented by Adah Rose Gallery.


Jean Jinho Jim Jean Jinho Kim was born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to the United States after graduating from high school. Kim’s work utilizes unconventional and inorganic materials to create new and surprising forms that convey life, movement, and change. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from West Virginia University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art at American University in Washington, D.C. Kim has exhibited her work in several solo and numerous group exhibitions in the U.S., Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, and South Korea, including recent solo and two person exhibitions at the Korean Community Center (NJ), Studio Gallery (Washington, D.C.), VisArt 355 Pod Space (MD), Korean Culture Center (Washington, D.C.), Amelie A. Wallace Gallery (NY) and group shows at The Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C,), The One Art Space (NY), Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center (MD), and Riverside Gallery (NJ), She has participated in residency programs in both Berlin, Germany, and Seravezza, Italy. She is currently the president of the Han-Mee Artist Association of Greater Washington. Her work has been reviewed by The Washington Post, The Korean Times, and Korea Daily, among others.


Photograph by Jin Hong Kim ©Jean Jinho Kim 23

Photograph by Jeff Barnett-Winsby. ©️Danni O’Brien 24

Danni O’Brien Danni O’Brien is an interdisciplinary artist from Northern Virginia, currently based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her practice is rooted in irreverence, haphazard play, and owned queerness. O’Brien has exhibited nationally and internationally, with recent solo exhibitions Glow Up at Arlington Arts Center (Arlington, VA), How to Shrimp Cocktail at Towson University (Towson, MD), Pulp Orchestra at The Ekru Project (Kansas City, MO), and other solo shows at Terrain Biennial (Iowa City, IA), School 33 Art Center (Baltimore, MD), and Hillyer Art Space (Washington, D.C.). Recent group exhibitions include Latela Curatorial, Current Space, Terrault, Collar Works, Shrine, and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, among others. O’Brien has upcoming exhibitions with SHAG Gallery (Charlotte, NC), Asya Geisberg (New York, NY) and Soloway Gallery (New York, NY). She has been awarded residencies nationally and internationally at PLOP, The Wassaic Project, Proyecto Ace, Art Farm, Baltimore Clayworks, Azule, Red Lodge Clay Center, and The Maple Terrace. She is the recent recipient of a 2022 Individual Artist Grant from the Belle Foundation for Cultural Development, a Trawick Prize Finalist, and a Janet & Walter Sondheim Award Semifinalist. O’Brien received her BFA in Studio Art from James Madison University and her work has been reviewed by The Washington Post, BmoreArt, Washington City Paper, and NewCity Art.


Published on the occasion of the exhibition Soft Power

16 July – 25 August, 2022 Edited by Luis Pazo and Victor de la Cruz Essay © 2022 by Kate Sable Design by Victor de la Cruz Printed by MIXAM, Illinois, Chicago Installation photographs by Gregory Staley We would like to thank Kate Sable for the contribution of her insightful essay. We are especially grateful to Mary Anne Arntzen, Sue Crawford, Wayson R. Jones, Jean Jinho Kim, and Danni O’Brien for their unwavering support in the production of this exhibition.

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