Stocking the Fridge with Dana Ellyn and Matt Sesow

Rapture Draft (Hell No, We Won't Go), acrylic on canvas, 18" x 24"

When I regained power five blazing days after the derecho, I found myself first stocking my fridge and then attending the exhibition Stocking the Fridge.

The show – located of course at The Fridge venue in Eastern Market – includes nearly 100 paintings by DC power couple Dana Ellyn and Matt Sesow. Politically charged, invigorating, and provocative, it was exactly what I needed to kick my newly re-powered life back into gear.

Ellyn and Sesow are extremely prolific (perhaps you’ve heard about their “31 Days in July” project, in which they produce a painting inspired by the news every day for one month); and this exhibition shows off just how much they can do.

With both incredible artists in one place and paintings lining the walls from top to bottom, it would be impossible to cover everything in one article, or even one visit.

Here are a few standouts to give you some idea of why you should run to see this show before it closes later in the month.


Dana Ellyn, Factory Farm Rapture (Jesus Saves the Pigs). Acrylic on board, 15 x 20 inches. 2012. $200

In Factory Farm Rapture (Jesus Saves the Pigs), Ellyn gives us one taste of a common theme in her work when Jesus returns to earth and saves pigs from imminent doom at the hand of agribusiness. Ellyn told me she connects with the term “saved” because of the once-common phrase “save the whales” and the perception by some people that Jesus’ return will make everything right – a perception she does not exactly share as an atheist/agnostic.

A bit of a blasphemer, her work includes strange rapture subjects like pigs and sheep. Factory Farm captures both compassion and cynicism, making plain what justice might look like if a godlike power really did come to restore the world and save its most innocent beings. Or perhaps it’s just for fun. It’s hard to tell with Ellyn.

I do know this, though: she keeps a running list by her bedside of things to rapture in her work. And rumor has it she’s planning an apocalypse-centered show for later this year.


Matt Sesow, Not Guilty. Mix on archival paper, 28 x 40 inches. 2011. $280

Sesow’s brash, colorful work blends well with Ellyn’s to produce a biting and sharply political effect. In Not Guilty, Sesow gives a face to the many characters society might often assume are criminals.

Sesow shows his subject the respect most wrongly accused people never receive. We see the man’s body shrouded as though in mourning, forced to carry a de-humanizing sign of his lost personhood. His face, tortured and immensely sad, invites us to commiserate with him. His eyes – at first only cold and gloomy – become terribly desperate when we realize only the artist has acquitted him.


Dana Ellyn, Bird Watching. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. 2012. $550

Pieces like Bird Watching are why everyone keeps telling Ellyn she should draw cartoons. Since she’s staunchly opposed to print reproductions of her work, we may be waiting a while. In the meantime, we have to take opportunities like Stocking the Fridge to delve deep into her use of allegory to discuss human rights, modern technology, and war.

Ellyn’s work is not for stubborn audiences, hell-bent on keeping their opinions simplistic. She will make you think; and her bold colors, whimsical characters, and sense of humor may win you over to her side before you know it.

In the case of Bird Watching, she captures the constant surveillance of modern society and in her not-so-subtle way makes it clear that laws like the National Defense Authorization Act are not helping. Innocence, overtaken by paranoia in  the eerie night, becomes anarchist and ready to revolt.


Dana Ellyn and Matt Sesow Stocking The Fridge. Exhibition View

If you want even more of the artists in your life, which wouldn’t be hard to imagine, The Fridge has you covered. The exhibition’s pieces are on sale and include extremely well-priced miniature works by Sesow like the pieces shown above, which cost as low as $40.

In addition, the closing reception will include an artists’ talk on Sunday, July 29th from 1pm-3pm.

Other We Love DC authors have been known to go gaga over these artists, and consider me a convert. We’re lucky to have Dana Ellyn and Matt Sesow traversing our city and painting our news; and their material at Stocking the Fridge will quickly show you why.

Stocking the Fridge runs through July 29, 2012 at The Fridge, located in Eastern Market at 516 1/2 8th Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. Closest Metro: Eastern Market (Blue/Orange Lines). For more information call (202) 664-4151.

Joanna moved to DC in 2010 knowing she’d love it, and as usual she was right. She enjoys eating fried things, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, and makes up for the damage done by snacking on organic oats and barley and walking long distances to wherever with her dog Henry. Joanna now lives with her husband and said dog in Los Angeles, and they all miss DC terribly. Follow her on Twitter or contact her at

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