31 artists either members or guests of the Zeuxis association of still-life painters, agreed to paint a still-life that somehow included an ordinary dish towel (“The Common Object”) that was sent to each artist. It is fascinating to see the wide range of interpretation from being the central focus to barely noticeable. Some of my favorites are the works by Lucy Barber, Anthony Martino, Sydney Licht, Mark Karnes, Elizabeth Geiger, Catherine Kehoe and William Barnes. Zeuxis is an association of still life painters that was started in 1994 in NYC. They have held over forty exhibitions around the country. These shows have included such notable guest artists as Wayne Thiebaud, Nell Blaine, Lois Dodd and many others.
Catherine Kehoe’s excellent blog, powers of observation, has a write up about the show and she links to a terrific album of photos of many of the paintings in the show. There is a great essay for the show, “Giving the Mundane its Beautiful Due” by Imogen Sara Smith that is a good read on the museum website. Here is a brief excerpt from the essay…
What could be more ordinary or more overlooked than a dishtowel? This truly common object forms the unifying element in the present exhibit: each artist was asked to incorporate a dishtowel into a still life for the show. Many felt at first that the assigned object was an intruder in their studios, alien to their vocabularies. It arrived in the mail as a flat, neatly folded rectangle of cloth, new and cheap (Made in China, as the label announces), traced with a grid of color, straight lines crossing at regular intervals to form a pattern of squares. But the soft fabric can be draped, crumpled or sculpted so that folds syncopate the rhythm of the lines, create irregular curves, contours, shadows and highlights. The geometric pattern lends itself to formal concerns, but the towel also has inescapable associations with everyday tasks: washing dishes, drying hands. As a tool and as a visual element, the dishtowel is versatile and absorbent, a bland ingredient that can be molded to many uses. Some painters left it inconspicuously in the background, others made it their whole subject; some depicted it in realistic detail, others turned it into an abstract form. Wet or dry, smooth or wrinkled, clean or stained, it symbolizes the blank canvas, the eternal challenge to make something out of nothing.
This show is currently at the Lancaster Museum of Art, Lancaster, PA — January 8-February 28, 2010 and the Peninsula Fine Arts Center — Newport News, Virginia April 3-July 11, 2010