The visual poetry of birds: “At Dusk” and “Flight Patterns” by Rachel Kerwin

Flight Patterns II
(graphite on paper)

“I really love working in black and white,” says Torpedo Factory artist Rachel Kerwin. “There’s a kind of simplicity there, as well as a graphic quality that grabs your attention.”

Locals clearly agree: In recent weeks, two organizations in D.C. and Richmond have acquired several of Kerwin’s pieces, a success story that offers valuable lessons for young artists: luck matters, but so do exhibitions—and sometimes, you just need to know whom to ask.

Kerwin’s first surprise came in October, when her drawings were purchased for the art collection at Capital One headquarters in Richmond.

“It was partly a stroke of luck,” she explains. She had recently showed two series of drawings at the McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville, where she previously had studio space and remains a member—and a representative from a Richmond gallery noticed.

“Capital One had hired the Glavé Kocen Gallery to put together a proposal of various works on paper that they could choose for their collection,” she explains. “I was thrilled they decided to buy three!”

At the same time, four of Kerwin’s pieces were acquired by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for their Art Bank, a collection that rotates throughout government buildings in Washington. After hearing about the program from fellow Torpedo Factory artist Margaret Huddy, Kerwin made the DCCAH aware of her work through a surprisingly straightforward application process—with the recent government shutdown the only part that left her, she says, “on pins and needles.”

Both Capital One and the DCCAH took a particular interest in Kerwin’s series “Flight Patterns” and “At Dusk,” both of which showcase the artist’s sharp eye for the intricate movement of birds.

At Dusk IX
(graphite and charcoal on paper)

“It can be both graceful and surprisingly abrupt, and also a challenge to replicate in two-dimensional work,” she says. “I was reading a lot about animal behavior and how large groups can move together, almost as one. That dynamic of fluidity and chaos gives rise to really interesting, organic shapes in large flocks. I hoped to mimic some of that movement and capture a bit of the visual poetry that happens when they come together.”

As one of the youngest artists in the Torpedo Factory—and one of the newest, having been juried into the art center in 2012—Kerwin is still charting her own flight path, and she’s surprised by the unexpected turns it sometimes takes.

“I’m still understanding what it means to have my work in these venues, but I love the idea that they’re inserting art, particularly contemporary art, into people’s working lives,” she says. “A well curated collection means that the work can become more than a backdrop; it can grab the attention of those who otherwise might not see it.”

Kerwin spends her days drawing and painting in an open studio, but she finds that landing her work in widely viewed collections serves a similar public-outreach purpose.

“Both of these collections communicate something important by making local artists a priority,” she says. “They show an investment in the community of artists who live and work around them”—the Torpedo Factory mission in a new, dynamic form.

Find Rachel Kerwin at the Torpedo Factory in studio 203! Check out the full range of her color paintings and drawings at her Facebook page and her website, or follow her on Twitter at @RachelKerwin.

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