Former Vendor Turned Artist Welcomed by Artomatic Community
On Oct. 30, 1,500 people flowed in and out of Artomatic 2015’s opening day. This was the first wave of an expected 75,000 total visitors during the approximately month-long event, according to an opening day press release.
“At first, a tsunami hit me,” visual artist Shanthi Chandrasekar put it best, stunned by the influx of people.
However, after the initial shock, the seemingly endless four floors of art swelled with intrigue and introductions. Artists and guests intermingled, a whole spectrum of people connecting through creativity.
Artomatic “lets artists do what they want, no judgment”, artist Cherie M. Redlinger explained.
Provoking pieces like Redlinger’s bloodied mattress in a makeshift alley can introduce controversial topics such as coat hanger abortions, which are usually tip-toed around.
Completely volunteer-run and partially funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Artomatic is free to the public and non-juried. This art show is an all-expenses paid trip into the uncensored art of the metropolitan expanse.
It’s a “glimpse into the art of the region,” described artist Mason Calhoun, whose primary focus in art is 2D cityscapes and mountains.
This glimpse transcends socioeconomic and educational barriers. While some of the artists have gone to art schools and made a career of art, others are government workers or scientists who make art in their free time. While some have lived their entire lives in the luxury of the middle class, others have been far less fortunate.
Dele Akerejah, known in the art world and at Artomatic as “Scissors Balanciér,” is one of those less fortunate artists.
A former vendor for Street Sense, he experienced homelessness from 2008 to 2012, hitting street-level homelessness from 2010 to 2012. Dele, 3 years later, now has his own apartment in the District and works as a mixed media collage artist.
“When you’re homeless you’re looking to the sky for hope and to the ground for coins,” Akerejah said. “We have a different eye.”
Homelessness, he says, taught him how to be resourceful and grateful. That has formed the artist he is today.
“What happened here?” a woman asked, signaling to the small set of paintings leaning against the wall shortly after Akerejah settled into his exhibit.
He explained how his art hanging supplies had run out and his attempt to improvise was unfortunately unsuccessful.
Akerejah went on to explain how the displaced set, a failed improvisation, became the perfect conversation starter.
“The Dolls”, numbers 1 through 5 of which sat patiently at the show, are an ongoing series for Akerejah. They wait invitingly in their frames, dripping with pop artist Keith Haring’s simplicity and movement while still bursting with originality.
Andy Warhol was also an inspiration in the series of paintings; each one a newly colored take on the same curvy woman in her well-fitted dress. Dele explained that this Factory-style production would create hundreds, if not thousands of dolls by the time he met his end.
What managed to stay on the wall was not nearly as simplistic as the ode to Haring. Crowded collages, with or without a focused subject, parade the hall.
Focused subject or chaotic collection, Akerejah’s art seems to hold one uniting feature: the female.
“Women are extremely beautiful in real life,” Akerejah explained. He naturally enjoys making art of them, but, “it’s not anything particularly carnal.”
A woman with big hoop earrings is the first to catch your eye. A marvelous mixed media mash-up of acrylic paint, magazine clippings, a hoop earring, costume gems, and more; so casually she stares you down, applying her rich red lipstick.
Beside her, goddesses and other beautiful women peer out knowingly.
In some of the more chaotic pieces, semi-pornographic images of women take a moment to register behind paint splatters. Peeking out of the blur of mixed media, they don’t hold the same air of celebration as those other women.
“Marketing beauty is something I’ve always been a part of, even in the underworld,” Akerejah stated, a glimpse into his darker past, where he marketed the beauty of women in a very different sense.
Together these pieces he brought to the show, which were almost entirely made in October, serve as a “sampler platter of what’s been made over the years.”
Raw and unrestrained, Dele’s sampler platter fits in with Artomatic’s scene, a convergence of so many unique and humbling perspectives. Artomatic is its own collage of mixed media and styles, everything from painting and sculpture to film and performance art.
It’s the kind of place Dele refers to as an “underground mega art show”. And underground, coming from Dele, is an enormous compliment.
In being so underground and judgment-free, Artomatic caries on that phrase by McLuhan which Warhol loved: “Art is what you can get away with.”
Artomatic is a free event that will take place until December 12, a ten minute walk from the New Carrollton Metro stop. Visit Artomatic.org for more information.