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Barbara Ernst Prey: An American Portrait


The Arts Club of Washington is presenting Barbara Ernst Prey: An American Portrait through December 20, 2003.

Prey, a gifted artist with an international reputation, brings new life to the medium of watercolor both through challenging and often complex compositions and the brilliant Maine light that glances across the images. Prey's accomplishments have gained her and her work national and international recognition. Currently one of her paintings, in the collection of President and Mrs. George W. Bush, hangs in The White House. Other works are included in prominent private, corporate and museum collections throughout the world. She was recently commissioned by The NASA Art Program to do a painting of the International Space Station. In this endeavor, she joins an elite group of American artists who have been invited by NASA to document space history including Norman Rockwell and Jasper Johns. Dr. H. Lester Cooke, former National Gallery of Art Curator who guides the NASA Arts Program comments, "future generations will realize that we have not only the scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age but artists worthy to keep them company." Her range of artistic vision garnered her a profile in The New York Times "Public Lives" section commenting that Prey is "going where icons like Rauschenberg and Warhol have gone before" Some of the studies for the ISS will be included in the exhibit.

Prey is an international ambassador for our country with paintings hanging in U.S. Embassies abroad through the U.S. Arts in Embassies Program. Her monumental painting "Reunion at Dusk" is on view at the United States Embassy in Prague, hanging in the company of works by major American artists. During the recent NATO summit in Prague the work was singled out with an invitation by the State Department in June for Prey to deliver a lecture about her work to the cultural leaders in Prague prior to the NATO summit. The presentation was so successful that it has established the model for a pilot program for Arts in Embassies. Richard Koshalek, former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles writes, "This extraordinary program presents the very best work by the most innovative artists in the U.S. to an audience throughout the world. It has set a standard of quality which is recognized by the entire artistic community and is appreciated by the visitors to American Embassies worldwide." Other artists involved include Frank Stella, Roy Lichetenstein, Andy Warhol and Chuck Close. Closer to home Prey's large scale painting "Gallantly Streaming," one of a series of paintings done in response to 9/11, was requested by First Lady of New York Libby Pataki to hang in her New York office.

The humanistic and timeless quality of her watercolors is seen in the 18 large paintings and 30 smaller paintings in the exhibit that fill the entire two floors of the gallery. After spending half a year researching and working on the NASA commission, which stretched the range of her artistic vision and talents, Prey's new works reflect a new dynamic. "This year I have gone from painting the familiar to the universe, it is both awesome and exhilarating."

Prey first came to Maine to paint 25 years ago and has since maintained a studio there and in New York. Prey's family roots are deep in the Maine landscape dating back to the 1700s. This year she returned to Vinalhaven, painting classic island houses previously inhabited by her ancestors, seeking to capture the spirit of place. Like great works of literature, the content of her paintings afford different levels of interpretation. For Prey, the buildings become metaphors, sun-drenched clapboards that carry her historical connection to Maine. Distinguished New York critic Charles Riley in his recent catalogue introduction writes, "Prey's new works are immense, lovingly rendered, long meditations that test her limits in densely worked, allover compositions alive from edge-to-edge with technical problems posed and powerfully solved... On this scale, at this extraordinarily lofty technical level, the significance of the achievement gradually dawns. With thirty years' experience in a career filled with internationally significant honors, commissions and exhibitions, Prey as a virtuoso recognizes the need to dynamically challenge herself."

While Prey is best known for her architectural subjects, a number of her watercolors give greater attention to the environment the house is situated in by adjusting her viewpoint. After the Rain gives us a long-distance view, rendering the whole house in profile with a generous expanse of carefully painted meadow. Marshall Poin" elaborates oii the water and rocky coastline as viewed from above in a helicopter. In a later series of works that focus on patriotism, Prey's eye rests on the details, the meaningful representations that expressed a nation in pain. In Patriot the central character is an exquisitely rendered flag bound to the handrail at the front door stoop. With Stars and Stripes the balance shifts toward the colorfully patriotic quilt, the commentary further dramatized by the shadow dropping obliquely across the window. Prey's deliberate choice and exploration of architectural painting as portraiture becomes the means by which the artist can explore a broader narrative with a familiar and iconic subject.

Besides The New York Times Prey has been featured in a documentary on PBS, Newsday, The New York Post, The Daily News, The International Art Newspaper, Avenue Magazine, NBC's celebrity show EXTRA, Town and Country Magazine, Art and Antiques Magazine and in a number of books.

Prey's exhibits include the U.S. Embassy Prague, U.S. Embassy Oslo, Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, The Heckscher Art Museum, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Pennsylvania and the Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine Her paintings are included in public collections such as the Farnsworth Art Museum, Williams College Museum of Art, The Taiwan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation and The Reader's Digest Collection. Her work is owned by private collectors including President and Mrs. George W. Bush, the White House; President and Mrs. George Bush, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Luce HI, Mr. Richard Mellon, Dr. and Mrs. James Watson, Ambassador and Mrs. Craig Stapleton and Prince and Princess Johannes Lobkowicz.

Prey graduated from Williams College and has a masters from Harvard University. She was awarded a Fuibright Scholarship and a Henry Luce Foundation grant for her work where she was able to travel, study and exhibit extensively in Europe and Asia. Ms. Prey's website is at http://www.barbaraprey.com/

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