by Roger Catlin for the Washington Post – May 25, 2012
Born to poor immigrant grocers in D.C., Paul Feinberg was expected to find a stable job when he grew up. So he ended up working as an engineer at the Goddard Space Center.
But he longed for a more artistic life, and he began to photograph lives of those on the margins, around the now long-gone Greyhound bus station, in old pool halls, barrooms and strip clubs. He also photographed artists, beginning in the late 1960s.
The camera, Feinberg says, “gave me the excuse to find out what other parts of the outside world, which I hadn’t been exposed to, or didn’t know much about, or was curious about or thought I wanted to be in.”
Though he didn’t consider becoming an artist, “there was always something about the life of an artist, having read Hemingway and writers back then, that appealed to me.”
His first taste came when he met artist Manon Cleary in her Adams Morgan studio. Suddenly, Feinberg says, “I found this stereotype that I imagined: a real bohemian artist in this city.” Through her, Feinberg met other artists who “made life here much more cosmopolitan to a person that knew none of these worlds growing up.” Over the years, Feinberg’s images became the basis of dozens of magazine photo stories and a handful of gallery shows, from his earliest bus station essay to 2009’s “Another Washington,” a show of images he captured of tattoo artists, panhandlers, burlesque queens and others from the 1970s and ’80s.
When Cleary took ill in recent years, she requested he continue to photograph her in her studio. It got Feinberg thinking of the other artists he had met decades ago as well. He found them all still working and still committed to their painting, even as the art world had in many cases moved on to the next big thing.
Double portraits of nine artists comprise his new show, “Constant Artist,” opening June 9 at the Katzen Arts Center at American University, along with what he calls “word portraits” — excerpts from the transcribed interviews Feinberg includes with his work.
As with his previous shots of gritty, bygone Washington, “the point of much of it is showing change,” he says.
Artists included the show are Lisa Montag Brotman, Rebecca Davenport, Fred Folsom, Tom Green, Margarida Kendall Hull, Joseph White and the three pictured here.
In addition to the double portraits of those artists, we asked Feinberg to provide similar then-and-now photographs of himself.
Photographer and interviewer, his work has appeared in Washingtonian, The Washington Post magazine and in exhibits.
“I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m a documentarian. I want to give these people some attention. Outside of their obituaries, you don’t get to read about them all that much . . .
“The artists’ photographs are mostly close-up portraits in order to emphasize the passage of time. . . . But in the bigger picture, it comments on change: change to a vibrant, creative, cultural part of our city, and change in life expectations as we grow older.
“In spite of many obstacles, these nine artists, having been recognized as among the best of our city, continue to produce their art as they have since their youth and strive to maintain or re-establish the acceptance and appreciation of their artistic visions.”
A scenemaker who died in November at the age of 69, Cleary had lived in Washington since 1974 and became known for her photorealist paintings that were exhibited worldwide. Her work is in the collection of the Corcoran, National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.
“My art is my legacy, my children. I’m creating a history for myself the same way someone else would carry their genes forth. I care where my paintings go in the world, every one of them. When I recently had my retrospective it was really good to see them again. They held up and were as good or better than I remember them . . .
“I didn’t have kids. I’m reading through my 50th high school class reunion book thinking, okay. I made a choice and wouldn’t change it, because I had a pretty exciting life . . .
“What will happen to my work? Will it find good homes or get placed in garage sales?’’
Clark V. Fox
Born Michael Vinson Clark, the artist who changed his name several times moved to Washington in the ’60s. He helped found the Museum of Contemporary Art in Washington, and at 65, is famous for post-pop images of windows and presidents.
“Art chose me. I’m an American Indian, and Indians make stuff. My father carved. My mother painted. When I was 5, I’d go up and down the street trying to sell my small paintings. By high school, I was a full-scale artist selling my pieces at the shopping malls . . .
“Part of the reason I came to Washington was because it is the most important city in the world; from Washington we can and have destroyed nations. Part of my art thing was to try to humanize people. Unfortunately, they’re not manning the flames of creativity in Washington. There are tons of dough here but very little interest in art.
Photographed in 1969 and 2012
Now 78, Gilliam, one of the foremost color-field painters, lived in Washington since 1962, becoming one of the most prominent African American artists. He made his name in a series of shows featuring his unstretched, draped canvases. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Guggenheim and the Tate in London.
“When I was a young artist, I was scared. It was so shaky for artists. But I got lucky because of my shows at the Corcoran. Each show elevated my work. When the Corcoran survived, the artists survived. That’s why it’s so dead now. Now there are more artists doing bad work than ever before.
“The older I get the more nervous I am when making art. I’m also a little jealous of what I did when I was younger, much like an athlete feels as he ages: ‘Will I be able to do it again? Do I still have it?’ I don’t know if my work is better now, but because of the wisdom of age, my work is smarter.”
The Constant Artist
June 9-Aug. 12 at the Katzen Arts Center, American University.
MOCADC – 5/27/2012 6:14 PM EDT
It was a pleasure to read that Clark V. Fox was among the nine artists selected to be part of a Katzen Art Center exhibit of Paul Feinberg photos. I came to know him as Clark Hogan when he let me use his gallery to organize the Figure Models Guild in July 2002. He took his wife’s last name when he married Felicity Hogan, dropped it when they divorced and assumed his current name for an art exhibit in Houston with fellow artists Anthony Ausgang and Ron English. I came to the art scene as a model shortly after turning 60, my first gig on Halloween Day 2000. I enjoyed being part of a creative process, so I did a newsletter, Artists & Models for six months before starting the guild and curated figurative work under the name A & M Galleries; I treated it as a regular gallery even though it was on commercial wall space, mostly the Art Store in Georgetown. It was so successful that they hired someone to do their own exhibits leaving me with only space in Larry’s Lounge in Adams Morgan.
I was fortunate to have found Clark as he was a tremendous resource to learn about the art scene in DC, some of it from the numerous articles in the Post and more in 2003 when he and Sam Gilliam gave a presentation on the art scene in DC to a packed audience; Clark did most of the talking, which was ok with Sam as Clark had a remarkable style that left the audience wanting more.
Clark had several serious health problems that made it difficult for him to keep the gallery going so he was going to close it in December 2004. But the Figure Models Guild was a success so I told him that I would guarantee the rent and run the place. I took over January 1, 2005, have made many improvements to the space and keep it going by holding a variety of events, some centering on the art scene but all gaining from the artsy atmosphere created by the art on the walls.
The gallery is unique in several ways, notably through our mission to be Open to All Artists All the Time. Literally hundreds of artists have had their first exhibit at MOCA DC, as it is now called. It also is the only gallery with an emphasis on the nude figure. The latest iteration features juried and curated shows in the lobby, now called Up.Front@Moca.DC while the main gallery, or Out.Back@Moca.DC, continues with the mission to be open to all artists.
The gallery celebrated its 20th anniversary in April; I feel honored to be part of it, and consider it an honor to sustain something that was started by Clark, an artist who is such a time-honored part of the local art scene.
David R. Quammen