- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Will Barnet's "Waiting," a wrenching picture of New England women looking for their men at sea, symbolizes the same strength of character that gave fortitude to the many who kept vigils for loved ones after the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Mr. Barnet's image is part of the extraordinary exhibit "True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit" at Meridian International Center in Northwest. It displays the responses of 68 artists to terrorist hijackers crashing airliners into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon locally.
Officials at Meridian International Center say artists called the center immediately after the tragedy wanting to find a venue for expressing their reactions through their work.
At the time, photojournalists rushed to take the first photos of the crumbling World Trade Center towers. Powerful portraits gripped the nation: images of victims dead and alive, relatives, firefighters, volunteers, airline flight attendants, widows with babies, policemen, hospital workers, vigil keepers. The art of the lean, spare photograph threatened to kill expression about the tragedies in the other arts.
Artists in New York and Washington who contributed to "True Values" witnessed the events, were close by or also experienced the enormousness of the losses through the tears of friends and relatives. Americans had not had their world changed so quickly since Pearl Harbor.
Carmen Einfinger lives one mile north of the collapsed Trade Center towers. She had just gotten off the subway to walk south to her house on Houston Street when she saw the smoking buildings.
"People walked uptown in a kind of exodus. They were so quiet, just walking and walking," she recalls. Miss Einfinger's "Explosion," one of the exhibit's most powerful works, is a result of her impressions.
of her impressions.
Artists from other parts of the country were not close to the burning buildings but were deeply affected. Exhibit participants such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jamie Wyeth, John Alexander, Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame), Richard Estes, Red Grooms and Mr. Barnet are internationally known. Others, such as El Salvador-born Jose Interiano, a senior at High Point High School in Beltsville and a Congressional Arts Competition 2002 winner, also are passionate about the subject.
Nancy Matthews, Meridian Center vice president for the arts, decided to focus the exhibit on Americans' strength of spirit and identity, with September 11 a large part of that.
Mr. Barnet says he always has sought the spiritual in art, especially in his "Woman of the Sea" series. His "Waiting" in this exhibit is part of the "Maine Woman" series, which depicts grandmothers, wives and daughters who search the horizon for boats returning home and those that didn't make it. He says they symbolize the development of New England and the character of our country.
He arranged the flat ocean and sky, human forms and structures of "Waiting" to create an ambience of eternal resignation. "I'm trying to get at the grandeur in people … like the earlier American painters who worshipped nature and felt religion in just looking at a scene," he says.
He modeled the five women of "Waiting" (1975) as the stark, columnar beings of a Greek chorus and universal Everywomen.
James ("Jamie ") Browning Wyeth's searing "Study for September 11th" is the most immediate of all the works. Just after the tragedy, the editor of the New York Observer asked Mr. Wyeth to create a painting for the cover of the paper's Sept. 24 edition. Responding to the request, the artist toured ground zero with then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani right after the attack. He also used photographs provided by the Observer.
"If N.C. were still alive, he would have done it. His memory inspired me," Mr. Wyeth said of his grandfather, the famous illustrator and painter Newell Convers Wyeth.
"Nothing prepares you for the scene [at the World Trade Center site]. It's overwhelming," the painter says of "the appalling destruction."
He says the initial tiny mixed-media sketch displayed in the exhibit was inspired by Felix de Weldon's U.S. Marine Corps Memorial depicting the raising of the American flag during the battle of Iwo Jima and an Associated Press photograph of firefighters raising a flag in the World Trade Center rubble with a rescue dog by their sides.
Mr. Wyeth says he worked around the clock to meet the Observer's deadline and calls the painting one of the fastest he ever did. "I found the experience demanding but cathartic," he says.
He contributed the money he received from the newspaper to relief efforts and the $400,000 earned at auction for the larger "September 11th." Prints made from the painting are also sold to benefit disaster victims.
Some of the most moving images in the exhibit are by artists unknown to most people. Michael Amter's dual "Memorial" and "Terror" are tiny, highly effective reactions to September 11. Alan Campbell of Atlanta painted a moving, daylight vigil ("Reflections From Athens"). Pinkney Herbert's "Filling the Void" is a swirl of energized lights moving into the emptiness of what probably is ground zero. Martaz Pardais of Chicago, who was born in Afghanistan, created an intricate, manuscriptlike, oil-on-canvas "Friendship." It's an exquisite gold-and-cobalt-blue symbol of Afghan-American alignment.
"True Colors" appropriately will visit Washington and New York City first. After a showing in Atlanta, it will travel internationally.
Curators William Dunlap and Pam Bailey, with Mrs. Matthews, contributed their services. The artists paid for framing and shipping. They all put their visions and beliefs into this remarkable show.

WHAT: "True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit"
WHERE: White-Meyer Galleries, Meridian International Center, 1624 Crescent Place NW
WHEN: 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, through April 14
TICKETS: Free
PHONE: 202/939-5568
SPONSORS: ABB Inc., Coca Cola Co., Dillon Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation, law firm of King & Spaulding, Balmar Printing Inc., HMB Art Transfer, Stinehour Press, Susan Reed Graphics, USArt International Ltd. and V-H Sign Co. contributed services either pro bono or at cost.


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