By Robin Tierney
Special to The Examiner 9/4/08
One day, the D.C.-based extremo expressionist is in North Carolina, painting spontaneously, side-stage, to a live opera performance of “Don Giovanni.”
Soon, he’s jetting to San Francisco to paint the set for a play, "All You Can Eat.”
Most of July, he painted his way through China with his parents and fellow artist Dana Ellyn. They found supplies along the way, as well as inspirations from acrobats to “all kinds of communists.”
“I really enjoy being with my parents, so taking time away from them to paint was very difficult,” Sesow said. “I rectified this situation by sketching some of my paintings using pen and ink while hanging out with them in bars and on the deck of ships, in buses. ... Dana and I had to forgo sleep and food sometimes just so we could work on the paintings.”
Selections from the duo’s visual travelogue now fill Long View Gallery. Sesow’s graphic accounts erupt with frenzy, distress, dissent, incredulity. There are rope-walks between exhilaration and hysteria, observations conscious and subconscious of a vast morass of myriad traditions colliding with breakneck modernization.
Sesow interprets the painting, “Made in China”: “I bought some playing cards with (various images) of Mao ... I noticed the prominence of his wave, his hand.”
Sesow then imagined how his own painting hand might have been figuratively severed had he lived in China. The bunny rabbits at the bottom represent the innocent, marginalized Chinese people who’ve endured lifelong struggles.
“When you ride alone, you ride with Mao” — is a self-portrait as “the American tourist riding through Tiananmen Square on a chicken with a panda hat.”
Chickens and hats are among Sesow metaphorica.
“It is the way we felt (there) when people would ask to take our pictures. Some of the people had traveled from rural villages and never seen ‘westerners’,” he said. The title nods to a WWII propaganda poster that likened gas-wasting solo automobile trips to “riding with Hitler.”
Sesow flash-freezes the shock of events through his raw figures’ facial expressions and body language. Bright colors and large, animated forms both hulking and diminutive render even primal scream scenes approachable; the Matt-osphere is tumultuous, but not forbidding.
Sesow’s making good on his goal to have painted in every continent.
“I only have Antarctica to go,” he said.
(If you go: Made in China; Through Sept. 20; Long View Gallery; 1302 9th St. NW, Washington; free; 202-232-4788; longviewgallery.com)