Arts Desk

Vitamin A: Fred Folsom’s “Last Call”

"Fred Folsom Last Call (at the Shepard Go-Go Bar)" (1987)

In which one of our art critics highlights a favorite work on view in a local gallery

"The Constant Artist" captures the lives, words, and product of several prominent D.C. artists from various points across decades. Photographs and interviews are the work of Paul Feinberg, and the paintings on the wall are the works of his subjects, like Tom Green, Sam Gilliam, and the late Manon Cleary. Theoretically, we see how the work ages as the artists and their perspectives do the same. But in many cases, the work doesn't evolve, at least in technique, as much as the artists.

Fred Folsom's monumental painting "Last Call (at the Shepherd Go-Go Bar)" anchors the exhibition. At least it has a size advantage over the other paintings, measuring more than six feet tall by 19 feet wide. The work is a testament to Folsom's recollection of his past life, when he was "drunk, overweight, and no fun to be around." In Fineberg's portrait of the artist, Folsom points to his likeness in the triptych, with a broken nose and bloodshot eye. Another artist in the exhibition, Rebecca Davenport, is also visible in the composition, leaving the mind to wonder who else is in there.

As is the case with several artists in the exhibit, Folsom seems to be in a conversation with the Northern Renaissance. The level of detail and narrative quality within the composition is reminiscent of Pieter Bruegel. Not unlike Bruegel's "Netherlandish Proverbs," the composition to offer many lessons—not only of the potential time wasted (while wasted) in strip clubs, but also the benefits of the time-honored tradition of narrative painting.

"The Constant Artist" is on view 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday to August 12 at the American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

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