Power suit: Casey's tailor-made investigation

Rosamond Casey, "Power Stroke: Act One."

In the introduction to “Men In Suits: A Day on the Hill,” currently on view at the McGuffey Art Center, artist Rosamond Casey notes she grew up in Washington, D.C. surrounded by suit-wearing men. The ritual vestment of Capitol Hill high rollers, the suit symbolizes the relationship of masculinity to power for Casey. “By design,” she writes, “it expresses unassailable authority while concealing a myriad of behaviors.”

            Interested in exploring how the physical suit might express the psychology of its wearer, Casey spent a day roaming Washington’s balustrades, and marble halls (the architectural equivalents of power suits) photographing men as they went about their daily business. These snapshots then served as a springboard for Casey’s creation of a quasi-narrative, told through 10 mixed-media pieces, tracing an Everyman’s odyssey through Washington’s shadowy old boys’ world.

            A multi-faceted artist, Casey brings to the project an arsenal of skills, ranging from calligraphy to letterpress mastery to painting to collage. Her thoughtfully yet intuitively composed pieces reflect Casey’s obsession with shape and gesture combined with meaning-laden materials such as brass (evoking masculine clich©s like “top brass,” “getting down to brass tacks,” and “showing one’s mettle,” as well as offering a shiny, hard yang to suiting fabric’s soft yin).

The current exhibition circumnavigates McGuffey’s main gallery with a clockwise sequence of stations, beginning with “Initiation.” Each piece consists of a photomontage overlaid with painted glass and often other materials and works as a self-contained individual composition but also speaks to the show’s other images. For instance a lyrical series of arched shapes in “Chinese Whispers” finds echoes in the architectural backdrops of other pieces. Likewise, the gesture of a phallic microphone in “Chinese Whispers” recurs in the line of an even more phallic severed deer’s leg in “Power Stroke: Act One.”

Interspersed with these larger works are the 4”x 6” photographs Casey took in D.C. Her subjects’ heads are often out of frame or obscured, but their jackets and pants crease and flap to create calligraphic strokes as they walk. Although Casey’s imagined storyline is often elusive, her pieces are nevertheless riveting and evocative, conveying a rarified universe fueled by fabric-swathed testosterone and flop sweat.

A limited-run art book, bound in brass and Versace pinstripe wool cashmere, accompanies the exhibition. As beautifully produced as the volume is, though, the flat pages cannot capture the complexity of Casey’s layered originals, revealing the bravado and insecurity encased in every suit.


Rosamond Casey’s “Men in Suits: A Day on the Hill” is on view at the McGuffey Art Center through September 28. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.