We Love Arts: Dana Ellyn’s “The Art of Dating”

Elephant(s) in the Room. 20"x24" acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Dana Ellyn.

Jose lays the check directly between us. He couldn’t have have centered it more accurately if he’d held a ruler. The Pilot and I glance at the pleather billfold like it’s the elephant in the room it’s about to become.
- from Rachel Machacek’s The Science of Single

Earlier this week Katie interviewed one of her favorite writers Rachel Machacek on her new book, The Science of Single. Tonight one of my favorite artists, Dana Ellyn, unveils several paintings inspired by the book at a happy hour at Tryst from 7-9pm. It’s a fun coincidence bringing all our worlds together. Coyly titled “The Art of Dating,” Dana’s work is directly inspired by quotes from Rachel’s book, as well as her own ongoing investigations into the challenging aspects of being a woman and the conflicting expectations modern society places on us (and those we place on ourselves).

“Rachel attended my painting classes a few years back while she was in the midst of researching/writing/editing her book,” Dana explains. After randomly seeing Rachel’s Facebook status about her book being completed this past September, Dana sent her a congratulatory note, to which Rachel responded with an offer of a preview copy - “The only caveat is that you have to tell lots of people :)”

Of course Dana went one better. “Would you be interested in me doing a series of paintings and/or drawings inspired by your book and we could do a joint event with art and book launch sort of thing?” she asked. And Rachel’s response? “I. Love. Your. Idea. LOVE IT.” In a way that kind of literary inspiration mirrored Dana’s banned books series. After brainstorming sessions and the involvement of Danielle Lanteigne from Tryst, the exhibit was born.

Moment in the Spotlight. 16" x 20" acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Dana Ellyn.

When I look down shyly, I see light purple lace patterns bobbing around underneath my filmy top. I forgot to switch to my nude-colored bra. Crap.
- from Rachel Machacek’s The Science of Single

The absolute icy fear and hilarity of “Moment in the Spotlight” makes it my personal favorite of the exhibit. It’s like every anxiety dream come to life, as you try to shield yourself from embarrassment and being found out to be a fraud. You aren’t calm cool and collected, you’re a hot mess. Especially poignant are the solitary figures behind our poor dating heroine. The older woman immediately mirroring the blonde – is she a counterpart of poise and graceful aging or a sad lonelyhearts? The creepy guy with the cigarette in the back is definitely the wrong dude to catch your eye when you’re wearing a see-through blouse. This night is not going well.

Bearing the Singleton Cross. 18" x 24" oil on canvas. Courtesy of Dana Ellyn.

I like my friends’ homes in the suburbs, with their comfortable couches that have end tables where I can place my glass of merlot while watching a frothy movie about Hollywood love that always works out, no matter what. It’s welcoming and cozy and I know what to expect. Being “out there’ does not sound like this. It sounds more like walking into the middle of a treeless field with the singleton cross I’ve been bearing all these years…
- from Rachel Machacek’s The Science of Single

Ah, the “singleton cross” – a brilliant line inspiring another exhibit favorite. I love it when Dana plays subversive homage to religious iconography. The McMansions in the background, the happy Holy Family, all backdrop to the disturbingly cheerful bearer of our marital status obsessions. Where will this station of the cross lead her? What suburban Golgotha of Horrors dinner party awaits her, where the hostess dismissively says, “Not to worry, we’ll find someone for you to sit next to”? If that metaphor upsets you, well, Dana’s no stranger to blasphemy charges.

You can view these paintings and others starting tonight with the kick-off happy hour, and they’ll be on view at Tryst through February 1. It’s an especially interesting exhibit  to me as I’ve always been rather mystified by dating. The whole process of going out on expeditions with various potential mates to assess suitability and compatibility? Never did it. Looking at these paintings I realized that my most meaningful relationships have all been the result of dumb luck aided by the gods of chance and mayhem. But the themes dealing with women’s roles still resonates.

Dana’s work is a source of constant joy to me because she is equally mystified, perturbed and intrigued by the roles women both voluntarily choose to play and have involuntarily forced upon them. Her love of pun and metaphor never ceases to tickle me, and she never shies away from controversy. It looks like a fantastic collaboration between writer and artist.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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