ULTRA & Elkins: DC Faces at The Fridge

h.r. by ULTRA / aerosol and acrylic, 30 x 22 inches. 2012

It’s portraiture at its most local: to celebrate the opening of their new retail and gallery space, the folks over at The Fridge have put together two important DC-centric shows, filling their space front and back with provocative new works.

Quiet Walks in Dangerous Places

In the main gallery, the exhibit quiet walks in dangerous places showcases work by street artist Asad “ULTRA” Walker. ULTRA began his career as part of a DC-native go-go graffiti movement; and today his work in spray paint has changed the artistic sensibility of the district.

quiet walks in dangerous places is ULTRA’s first solo show. It focuses on portraiture of everyday people he has met in DC – people different from the ones you and I meet, unless you happen to be a graffiti artist out at 4am.

The portraits reveal a full range of emotion and relationships, from sisterhood to isolation, seduction to laughter. ULTRA’s subtle use of spray paint to create geometric detailing in the skin gives off the impression of armor and strength and contradicts his subjects’ sparkling, soft eyes. He shows respect for his models’ unique personalities and identities, even within the tight constraints of the portrait style.

As an pioneer in DC’s hip hop and graffiti movements for more than two decades, ULTRA has emerged as one of the country’s most talented street artists. His first solo show reflects the skill that got him there and gives a glimpse into DC’s 4am intimacy.

Self as Lady Bird with Nats Cap by Laura Elkins / oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. 2012.

Packin’ Heat Talkin’ Dirty

The new retail and gallery space known as The Mini-Fridge welcomes back provocative artist Laura Elkins for Packin’ Heat Talkin’ Dirty. This exhibit combines work from Elkins’ “Dirty Words” and “Summer in the City” series to fill the space with portraits of the artist as First Ladies.

The “Dirty Words” series plays off the common but dishonest narrative of First Ladies as flawless, graceful idols. She counters with the crazy notion that even First Ladies are fallen, imperfect human beings  by painting herself as the presidents’ wives in culturally shocking poses: Michelle Obama smoking her meds, Laura Bush in a blue hijab, and Lady Bird kissing Jackie Kennedy all stand out.

Her “Summer in the City” series focuses on another aspect of political life. Elkins sticks with her love for painting self-portraits as the First Ladies, but poses them this time with guns and other props to reflect on the way guns infiltrate the mundane and affect culture. Michelle Obama eats Skittles à la Treyvon Martin, while Jackie Kennedy wears a snorkel and mask. The guns become the most predictable part of each portrait, finding a place within sports, politics, race, sexuality, and literature.

According to Elkins, the paintings take conservative gun rights laws to their “darkly humorous conclusion: that you’d have to carry a gun wherever you go.” Perhaps that’s why the absurdist Self As Lady Bird with Nats Cap feels true to DC and everyday life. As Elkins sees it, guns are taking over our society in an increasingly intimate way. They could eventually “invade the most ordinary and supposedly pleasurable parts of life.”

quiet walks in dangerous places and Packin’ Heat Talkin’ Dirty run through October 28, 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 joannacastlemiller.com.

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