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Artomatic 2024, one artist's experience

Updated: Mar 12

When I saw the open call for this show, I called my colleague Joyce Zipperer.  She showed work in two previous exhibits by Artomatic and highly recommended my participation.  This is an artist run exhibit conceived by George Koch, using vacant buildings in urban settings, in cooperation with willing building owners.  The artist fees for their spaces plus donations finance the organization and it is entirely staffed by volunteer artists.  In addition to the entry fee, artists are required to take several shifts as staff volunteers throughout the show.  It is open to any artist and performer, so there is a great variety of work.  The building for this show at 2100 M St., in Washington DC, is in an eight-floor building that used to house the Social Security offices before the Pandemic.  Over one thousand artists and performers are showing their work on one of these floors.


Building site for Artomatic 2024.


Yesterday, mayor Muriel Bowser opened Artomatic’s twenty fifth year anniversary iteration with press and dignitaries.  Gaza bombing protesters interrupted the mayor for some minutes while attempting to get their message promoted through the press.  After they left, the mayor went on to talk about the city’s initiative to convert vacant office buildings into affordable housing in DC.  The CEO of the development company that owns the building also spoke about the partnership with the city in this effort, lauding DC as one of the best cities they are working with to develop vacant properties.  Both thanked Artomatic for its vision and participation in bringing new uses to buildings that have sat vacant for some time.


The artists on the eight and seventh floors had been asked to be present for a tour by the mayor and press.  As my space is on the eighth floor, #834, I was on hand for an interview by a videographer for Howard University.  Visitors started coming in at noon and the number of people grew till closing at midnight.  The show runs through April twenty-eight.  Mondays and Tuesdays it is closed.  Fridays and Saturdays the show is open from 1:00 PM -10:00 PM, Sundays, from 12:00 PM - 9:00 PM, and Wednesday – Thursday form 5:00 PM – 9:30 PM.

#834 on the 8th floor

Opening day was great fun, I had red and white wine, cheese and crackers on hand, and met many interested and engaging people.  It was heartwarming to see what drew viewers’ attention and was enjoyable sharing my process and the story behind each piece.   I love hearing viewers’ perspectives and many were very forthcoming.  Eighteen of my sculptures are on display, most finished last year and this year.  Only one of them has been shown in a show before.  They represent a series inspired by a specific site on the Potomac River south of Alexandria.  At low tide, a pebble beach is revealed where driftwood and beach glass are prevalent.  Close to my house, this is where I go for moments of Zen, ephemeral installations and collecting materials for work in my studio.  This was a native fishing ground and holds a spiritual significance and connection to Nature for me.  This series channels an imaginary culture from this site, remains representative of what could have been or exists in an alternate dimension.  These are creatures and objects imbued with river powers of time and place.  I work with driftwood, stones, bones, shells, and beach glass collected on this site.  I began incorporating river clay but transitioned to synthetic cement with pigments, for bonding my materials, as it is much stronger, water proof, and makes for very sturdy assemblies.

Six framed prints represent the source of my principal material, driftwood.  I am fascinated with trees and take photographs of them after the leaves have fallen.  Edited for high resolution in black and white, they are printed on quality drawing paper,

then I hand paint between the branches, with watercolors, to create a stained-glass effect.  That is why I call them Stained Trees.

The space I chose has a column at its center.  I painted the floor to delineate the space which has one corner near two windows.  Faithful to the artist instructions not to drive nails or screws into the columns, I built two collars that are pressure fitted to the column for holding my lighting armature, a lectern for my guestbook, and hanging artwork.

I attended orientation and picked my space on February 17.  Preparing my space began on the 18th.  I built as much at home as possible and assembled some on site.  Pedestals were a necessity for my sculptures, so I built them out of repurposed wood, from an old board walk and other projects.  My building skills working on a farm as a teen, rebuilding the interior a bronze foundry in Texas, twice, and as a handyman around the house, served me well in this project.

Working alongside neighboring artists and helping each other has been very rewarding.  I’ve met some very talented and interesting people whom I am sure will remain friends for a long time.  This experience has encouraged me to complete a number of works and display them as a group for the first time. 

Five of my short documentaries will be showing in one of the film theaters of Artomatic.  These are of outdoor ephemeral installations of mine and in collaboration with Robin Croft, a colleague from Manassa, VA. 

I’ve learned a great deal about curating and displaying my work, plus supplying printed material for context and identification.  My respect for gallerists and curators has been heightened.

Having worked for 35 years as a goldsmith to support my family and my art habit, I am now able to be a full-time artist after retiring from my job in December.  It is a dream come true to follow my muse and create work that brings me joy and elevates materials we often overlook.  There is life and power in all of Nature’s resources, it is up to us to embrace our responsibility for using these gifts wisely.

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© 2020 by Marcos Smyth

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