Nicole Salimbene walks daily to her Takoma Park studio on Maple Avenue where she puts in between four and eight hours – sometimes she’s drawing, sometimes painting, sewing, rolling paper or arranging found items for her artistic installations, or completing administrative tasks like writing grant proposals.
Lori Anne Boocks has a studio in the basement of her Germantown home. She goes downstairs to work when the inspiration strikes her. Often it follows a period of reflection and writing. Once she’s in a creative mode, Boocks may not come up for hours.
Salimbene is a steady Eddie and Boocks, a free spirit.
Although these two artists have different modes of working, they are the two Montgomery County-based nominees for the prestigious Trawick Prize, also known as the Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards. Boocks and Salimbene will share gallery space with six other locally based artists spanning Baltimore, Laurel and Washington, D.C. through Sept. 29 at Gallery B in Bethesda.
On Sept. 5, opening day, the 2018 Trawick Prize winners were announced: the first-place artist receives $10,000 (Caroline Hatfield of Baltimore); second place, $2,000 (Nicole Salimbene, Takoma Park); and third place, $1,000 (Timothy Makepeace, Washington, D.C.). The prominent regional art competition was created by long-time Bethesda arts lover and supporter Carol Trawick in 2003, and more than $220,000 has been awarded to more than 135 artists from throughout the area.
Ask Salimbene and Boocks about the nomination and both admitted they are thrilled, whether or not they win. “This is one of the premiere accolades that you can get in this area,” said Boocks. “Aside from the validation, it’s thrilling to be recognized in this way,” Salimbene added.
Boocks described her current pieces – four of which will be shown at Gallery B – as “not quite painting, not quite sculpture.” They appear to be lumpy packages, richly wrapped in textured fabric, and tied with cord or string. “I liked the idea of playing with materials and making something that comes apart from the wall a bit,” said Boocks, who moved away from two-dimensional canvas painting a little more than a year ago. She began experimenting with solid foam in various sizes by wrapping it, shaping it, covering and tying it.
“What if I wrapped something up — did some painting and then wrapped it up? What kind of juxtaposition between revealing things and hiding things would happen,” Boocks explained. “Then I began thinking about secrets: what we reveal and what we don’t, what it all says about connectedness.”
Titles are never an afterthought for Boocks. In fact, she said, “Rarely do I not know the title before I start the work. Even though my pieces are abstract, I’m always mulling the concept …. I’ve written something out, almost like a prose poem or prose phrases.” Like an action painter, she relishes the feeling of her hand moving across the page when she writes.
Her “Discrete Object No. 5” is compact – just six inches square – but surprisingly complex and intriguing. Resembling a misshapen parcel with varying tones of turquoise and rust, moss and earthy brown painted fabric, it’s tightly tied up in string. “Gift of Knowing” at a foot squared, is larger and splashes of coppery orange and deep sky-blue speckle its earthy tones from beachy pale sand to darkly loamy soil. The twine enwrapping the piece suggests a rhythm as the string splices the work — vertically, horizontally and diagonally — at varying intervals.
“It’s deceiving how physical those pieces are,” Boocks said. “The foam I use is pretty tough to keep the shape. While I was wrapping hemp or string around it, I was tearing up the skin of my hands. I was very surprised at how physical it was. It took a lot of hand strength to make them happen.”
Salimbene’s works are both socially and spiritually conscious and draw from collected objects, often ephemera. For her major piece, “Autobiography of Consumption,” she collected receipts for six months – from Whole Foods, CVS, Starbucks, etc. — then handstitched them together and rolled them into compact tubes. That piece inspired her “Hidden Scroll,” on view in the Trawick Prize show. It features more rolled receipts woven and laced together to form an oversized wall hanging. “I was asking questions about the hidden nature of consumption [with the collected receipts], and about how we cross class levels and hide consumption,” said Salimbene. “I was thinking about my own complicated relationships with class, consumption and the environment.”
Her “Divine Feminine” uses makeup – mirrored compacts collected from friends and test tubes filled with water – carefully arranged on a tray. Salimbene gathered the water from local natural water sources. “I was thinking about water as a feminine element in all of us and I often have an interest in both the feminine and masculine in a ‘both and’ way.” Presently, she is focusing on other makeup-related projects, and is even using eye pencil, mascara and other products instead of pencil and charcoal for sketches on paper.
Salimbene’s largest piece in the Gallery B show, “Mending Table,” is an installation. Originally viewers were invited to sit on a meditation cushion at the low table and contemplate a bowl and many dozens of threaded needles jabbed into the table. And, again, tubes filled with collected water stand in formation. “The idea was to think about the stitch by stitch process,” said Salimbene. But she also explored ideas about water and its resonance as a physical, environmental, social and spiritual force in people’s lives.
Although at Gallery B, “Mending Table” won’t be participatory, the artist shared that in the past she brought the work to the grounds of the Washington Monument and to the National Arboretum, inviting visitors to sit and meditate. Some shared their thoughts with Salimbene after; others simply sat, meditated and left.
“No one is alone in the intention to do reparation,” she said about the piece, “and then inviting them to participate in a meditation and in threading a needle was interesting. There is the challenge and care it takes to thread a needle and the idea of what mending means and what in one’s own life or in the greater world needs mending … and what water means in our lives.”
Both Boocks and Salimbene have found Montgomery County a fruitful and exciting place to make and show their art. Boocks, who works full-time in marketing for a nonprofit organization, finds opportunities to meet other artists, but one of her favorite plusses about the county is the close proximity to nature and the variety of parks, large and small, that both help inspire her and provide respite. Salimbene appreciates not being isolated from other artists or arts spaces. She says there are numerous places to see art from the major art galleries in the region to smaller more intimate spaces throughout the county. She also appreciates the funding options for Montgomery County residents provided by both the county and state arts councils. Boocks added, “They have really done an amazing job of keeping the art scene vibrant in an age when private galleries are having difficulties.”
The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards, 2018 Finalists Exhibition, is at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda, through Sept. 29. An opening reception is set for Friday, Sept. 14, 6 to 8 p.m. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Visit www.bethesda.org or call 301-215-6660.