Sometimes we experience works of art that embody both beauty and horror. The old word for this, now sadly devalued, was “awesome.” I hope artist Rosemary Feit Covey will forgive me for using that word to describe her current complete gallery installation, Red Handed. It is simply awesome.
Recently I visited Morton Fine Art to watch as Covey installed the work under the gentle eye of curator Amy Morton, spreading vinyl pieces across the floor. Even in that unfinished state before opening, it had undeniable power. Swirling vortexes of bald, nude figures, mouths open and arms red to the fingertips, soon covered the floor. I stepped gingerly over their faces, having no other option but to participate in their torture. It’s impossible to look away from the unsettling mass of bodies under your feet. It feels disrespectful. Jarring.
There’s no rest for your eyes on the walls either, which are also covered in variants of the twisting, stumbling figures. It’s difficult not to continually look down and dive into the pit. The vinyl floor pieces began as drawings, then printed both commercially and by hand, and finally overlaid in places with paint. Some prints were also made into wall paintings or just printed on basic paper. Covey got “housemaid’s knees” working on them (an old Victorian term that struck me as a cheeky metaphor for this quietly contained artist serving to bring these figures to life).
It’s an intensely visceral piece. Covey hopes it compels strangers visiting the gallery to engage with each other, to open up about their own distinct reactions. Though the work has its genesis in ideas of guilt, both individual and collective, viewers (or rather, participants) are encouraged to let their own interpretations germinate. Suicide, depression, isolation amongst the many, illness, the Holocaust, even zombies…whatever the dialogue that ensues, it has value to the artist.
Emotional reactions ran the gamut at last Friday’s opening (the crowd also went through “40+ bottles of wine,” Morton noted, and you may feel the need for a cocktail after visiting!) and will no doubt continue. The installation is on view now through July 5, and I encourage you to immerse yourself in the beautiful horror, facing the abyss both internal and external. Covey’s work is well worth the discomfort.
Rosemary Feit Covey’s Red Handed, now through July 5 at Morton Fine Art, located at 1781 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009. Gallery hours: 11am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5pm Sunday. For more information call 202-628-2787.