Art is definitely NOT dead, and if you need proof, go to Artomatic where you can see exhibits by more than 600 local artists, including paintings, drawing, sculptures, photographs and more. (See photos at the bottom.)
It’s true — you can sip chardonnay and speak in hushed tones to your companion while taking in the deeper meaning behind a rectangular canvas painted a single shade of dark blue. But here, you’ll have to sip it from a plastic cup, and your companion will never hear your hoity-toity critique, because it will be drowned out by the delighted voices of other show-goers, some who may have had more than a few plastic cups of wine.
Artomatic is a show for the masses, by the masses. Uncurated, space at this show is first-come, first-served. This explains some of the weirder exhibits and some of the paintings that are clearly famous people, but you may have seen better representations. Overall, however, it is a showing of amazing talents held by people whose day jobs in government and retail have not yet killed their souls.
Much of the art was abstract. Some of it had African-American or Asian leanings, some was aimed at children and a few depicted comic book characters or iconic rock-and-roll artists.
Artomatic was born in 1999 on Florida Avenue in the old Manhattan Laundry buildings (hence the name, art-o-matic). The developer allowed a group of artists to use the empty building to showcase their talents. Soon the whole building was filled with local creations.
Since then, Artomatic has traveled to empty buildings all over the DMV, turning barren spaces into lively centers of creativity, albeit briefly. This year’s show is housed in a partially empty office building on South Bell Street in Crystal City, right near the metro.
Seanna Cookus, a former chef turned artist, pours her creativity into her non-edible creations these days, including artwork and jewelry.
“I worked my last shift [at the restaurant] and decided to walk the walk of ‘starving artist’ for a bit,” Cookus said, “and see if I could make a living doing something new and fun that I love and find therapeutic on an everyday basis.”
Cookus says she’s not a painter, but she’s come up with a way to make what look like beautiful paintings.
She photographed an artist friend of hers’ works in progress, then made a montage. Unable to find any glue around the house, she turned to another method for cementing her creation — melting candles and crayons onto the pictures. The results are beautiful, free-form swirls and blobs of color.
She especially loves nature, and her favorite materials to work with are stones, gems and minerals.
“I sold a few of my wire-wrapped jewelry pieces and one of my photographs,” she said of her first Artomatic showing. “I was ecstatic people appreciated the way I saw things!”
Exhibits at Artomatic are spread among large spaces and smaller offices on seven floors. It’s too much to see properly in one day, so plan to go more than once. Since the show is free and runs seven weeks, there’s plenty of time.
Every time you go, you’ll also get the chance to see one of many special events, including instructional workshops on crafts like weaving and tie-dyeing. Some of these are especially geared to children. Several events are planned this upcoming weekend that are geared toward Earth Day.
Besides these great interactive programs, the show features performances like poetry readings and magic shows as well as musicians and musical groups.
Also check out the Artomatic Marketplace, where you can buy one-of-a-kind wares crafted by the resident artists.
Artomatic, 1800 S. Bell St., Crystal City, Virginia; Open Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, noon to midnight and Sundays, noon to 8 p.m., through May 6.