All hands on deck: Whitehill takes as McGuffey makes

Amber Zavada, "Roller." © Amber Zavada
Amber Zavada, "Roller." © Amber Zavada

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“Only dead fish go with the flow,” said Sarah Palin in her July 3 resignation speech. I guess that makes me a sad little flounder. Without knowing the details of the exhibition, I went to the McGuffey Art Center on July 4, intending to review Murray Whitehill’s “A Show of Hands.” Since Whitehill specializes in digital imagery, I expected to find computer-manipulated work. Instead I found straightforward photographs of McGuffey members’ hands engaged in making art.

More photography? After five weeks of reviewing Festival of the Photograph shows, I felt like “dodging and burning” a fast track out of the gallery. But since it was a lazy holiday weekend with few venues open, I decided to go with the flow, dead fish that I am, and give the McGuffey fare a chance.

What’s fun about Whitehill’s small color close-ups is many of the artworks that the artists’ were creating when Murray focused his lens are hanging in the concurrent McGuffey “Summer Group Show.” For instance, Whitehill offers a milky image of Rachel Kerwin’s fingers holding a teal-painted pencil, ringed in red, as she grays in red outlines of birds on paper. Nearby Kerwin’s finished drawing, “Smoke Signals” reveals the larger semi-abstract composition of winged shapes emerging from a gaping maw in an upward sweep.

Similarly, Whitehill captures photographer Ron Evans’ hands holding the silver gelatin print of a warped Empire State Building that Evans has on display and Cynthia Burke’s hand painting a frog much like the one in the members’ show. Whitehill’s most compelling photograph, however, has no physical counterpart in the exhibition. Here, ceramist Rebekah Wostrel’s gloved hands, caked in khaki clay, enter the frame from the top of the image to guide a student’s bare hand in shaping a mound on a potter’s wheel, while concentric circles of clay radiate outward.

As for the McGuffey “Summer Group Show,” with few exceptions, the usual suspects serve up the usual fare (which is not to say it’s not worth seeing). One artist worth a second look, though, is new member Amber Zavada, whose two sculptures, made of cast bronze and organic materials, are at once primal and otherworldly. Zavada’s off-kilter “Cart IV and Plaything” seems like a toy for a demon-child (in the best kind of way).

Midsummer at McGuffey may not break new artistic ground, but Whitehill and the Center members offer a flow in which it’s simply pleasant to go.

Murray Whitehill’s exhibition, “Show of Hands,” and the McGuffey Summer Group Show are on view through August 16 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.