Gorgeous is not a word to be thrown out lightly, and in any case it’s usually not accepted  ArtSpeak, but some of the works in Meditation at Wash Park Art, 1215 Elm Street, call out for it.  The show presents new works and collaborations by Evan Hildebrandt and Alison Shepard, established artists who are married to each other so collaborators in life as well as art.  Each is also represented by individual works.

At first glance some of these paintings appear abstract, splendid swoops and relating shapes, but on closer look they are in fact representative.  Somewhat. For instance:  Hildebrandt’s “Lagoon” is a meltingly colored depiction of an irregular shape set against a surrounding background and easily assumed to be simply a study in contrasts, but it is in fact exactly what it says it is.  The irregular centerpiece is a lagoon, its source a photograph taken from space.

“Lagoon,” like a number of other works in this show, is described on its label simply as “mixed media on panel.”  Hildebrandt’s works are all so identified – except for one or two “mixed media on canvas” – as are the collaborations between the two artists. Heldebrant likes sturdy materials: plasticine clay, construction panels. The defining element in the media that is mixed is resin, heated, necessitating fast work before it hardens, and producing a smooth, almost glassy surface that is apparently impenetrable. Two horses race in “Into the Wind,” one of the collaborations, a work that invites close attention, as does “Chopin’s Koi Pond” in which handsome, certainly non-abstract fish are seen in their underwater world.

Shepard’s individual works are almost all oil on canvas, are small compared to the commanding size of some of the collaborations, and include two linked pairs, each made up of a close study of a single flower shown above a cloud-framed view of the Ohio River. The blossom, so closely observed, provides a distinct contrast to the river-wide view of the Ohio, flowing serenely between its banks.

Both artists see their collaboration for this show as examples of meditation, hence the name. “The act of creating is an actualized meditation, bringing forth deeper revelations about the subject,” Heldebrandt has written.

Wash Park Art opened last October and is an example of the kind of change being effected in the area.  Holly Doan Spraul bought the three story, once three-apartment row house a few doors down from Music Hall with the intention of bringing it up to date but respecting its original 1887 design and purpose. An apartment still occupies each of the upper floors, but the ground floor now is a gallery.  Considerable work has been needed, tactfully carried out for harmonious effect, and the 21st century art currently installed is happily at home there. The ground floor, apparently always commercial, had had two medical offices, Spraul says.  The wall between was removed to make one long entrance room to the space, with a smaller, squarer room behind it, also given over to gallery.  A kitchen behind is useful for openings, as is the walled garden at rear.

Spraul has named the building the Frank van de Stucken Flats, in tribute to an early tenant, “the founding conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,” she explains.  Spraul has interesting stories about this prominent figure in the city’s cultural history, who originally was not happy to be here, but came to like it.

A small, modern joke marks the entrance.  Next door, the short flight of steps to its entrance is flanked by a miniature lion on either side in traditional guard pose; the steps to Wash Park Art are surveyed by a pair of watchful pigs.

Wash Park Art will be open 5 to 10 p.m. for Final Friday, March 27; regular hours are 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 4 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.  Meditation will run through  April 19.

OTR is not the only area now becoming a gallery setting. Pear Gallery, 2159 Central Avenue in Brighton, will have its second opening from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 6, with Rainbow Deities, featuring the work of two Cincinnati artists, L.d. Nhis and Bill Ross.  Pear Gallery, in Apartment 8 at that address, presents brief shows with limited hours:  openings 7 to 11 p.m. the first Saturday of the month, with viewing by appointment on the immediately following Sunday and Monday.

–Jane Durrell

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