March 25, 2009

Ian Whitmore and Graham Caldwell: DC artists move to NYC

Ian Whitmore, who, according to Washington Post's Blake Gopnik, is one of DC's most promising young painters, has recently moved to Brooklyn. "In NYC, he gets 'a big inspiration from something' at least once a week, from the music scene to the latest art in Chelsea to the Old Masters at the great museums (Whitmore's art looks back as well as forward). Above all, in New York, there is the sense that 'everybody is making art.' At first, Whitmore says, he was unnerved by the competition, but then he came to realize that it 'really helps you focus on what's special in your art.' To learn how to make significant work, Whitmore points out, 'you've got to know where everybody else is at.' And no matter how good a smaller art scene may be -- thanks partly to its museums and art schools, Washington's is better than those in many cities of the same size -- it doesn't provide the fodder of a major center like New York.

"In his first shows in Washington, Whitmore achieved a slick, signature look that made him stand out from the local crowd: He mixed flamboyant brushwork with pop references that ranged from Snow White to NASA. His work looked like French rococo painting channeled through de Kooning channeled through Disney. In New York, he seems to have been forced into a broader scope of subjects, approaches and techniques. Paintings in his latest show at G ranged from a woman's silhouette smeared in white onto raw canvas, to a tasteful landscape crossed-out in fluorescent green, to a surprisingly straight -- but slyly satiric -- portrait of Nancy Reagan.

"Whitmore lives in Bushwick, an artist-friendly, grubby neighborhood of cheap housing and light industry. That's a mix that artists love, because it gives them living and studio space without a big commute between them. And it's hard to find in D.C. Whitmore's Brooklyn rent is about the same as when he lived in a group house in Mount Pleasant. The tight railroad apartment he shares with his pregnant partner, who designs clothes, costs about $1,300 a month; their rear bedroom doubles as a joint studio. He says day jobs are no harder to find than in D.C. (He's working as a carpenter.) There was no reason not to make the move, he concludes....

"So far, neither Caldwell nor Whitmore has managed a deep penetration into the New York scene. They don't have dealers there, and have only started to make contacts that might lead to non-commercial shows. But both feel the move north has put them closer to where they want to be in their careers."

Gopnik's piece covers both Ian Whitmore and glass artist Graham Caldwell, who relocated to Greenpoint eighteen months ago from DC. If you see them around town, say hello.

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