Monday, August 20, 2007

Gennady Spirin: Elizabeth Stone Gallery

In her second floor cottage studio, the generous, affable, and knowledgeable Elizabeth Stone shared the wonders and challenges of showcasing the fine art of children's book illustration. One of four preeminent galleries for children's illustration in the country, Stone enjoys a recent Alexandria nomination for Best New Business and will celebrate her one year anniversary in January. Her experience with enlarged installation art not only provides a backdrop for her collaboration with children's illustrators, but also for her savvy with the refined corporate tastes of Morgan Stanley New York Presbyterian Hospital, the Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, and a host of non-profit volunteer fundraising events. Stone's gallery is a thoughtful mix of part showroom space and part children's alcove, able to meet the needs of every wallet. Her sweetly small but well-lit space on King Street now contains unique original art, signed limited editions, prints, posters, and children's books of more than 100 internationally known illustrators. Prior to becoming a gallery owner in Michigan, Stone began collecting while working as a children's librarian in a private school. Out of her pure love of the art, her sincere enjoyment at seeing children's minds engaged when words meet illustration, Stone recognized the need for a place to display discerning, specialized, and imaginative work. Within three years, she had acquired 22 original pieces. Although now she sees the work primarily as fine art, Stone seems somewhat bemused that often people entering her gallery do not fully realize the beauty and application of children's illustration. For example, the renowned work of illustrator Gennady Spirin (currently showing) retails absolutely incredible once-in-a-lifetime watercolors ranging from $1,000 - $60,000. Luckily, you can see the show free until October 28, but hang on tight, because you will want to buy!Stone is quietly happy to teach how Spirin's work intuitively combines traditional Russian contemporary art techniques with a Renaissance feel. Spirin's highly spirited fantasy characters appear amidst lovely, lush, multi-layered detailed environments. A master illustrator, Spirin's created more than 40 children's illustrated books - many of his contributions having received noted and acclaimed awards. Original watercolors from storybooks are found in name-dropping private, corporate, and university settings, largely because Spirin finds that literature for children provides an ideal framework where a rich expression of imagination can come to life. He breathes into this life a mix of opulent yet translucent watercolor palettes in immensely detailed works. You may have already seen his recently commissioned piece of flying books over the Washington Monument for the promotion of the 2006 Library of Congress & Laura Bush National Book Festival. Spirin, born near Moscow on December 25, 1948, now lives in New Jersey with his wife and three sons. All is right in the world when an artist born on Christmas Day feels an overwhelming duty to paint in the spirit these rich and deeply immense biblical passages, all with an unmistakable reverence for the BIG GUY. In "Joy To The World," "Nutcracker," "Easter Story," and "Christmas Story," Spirin proves he is the ONE illustrator you'd want for any religious depiction, any day, any place. Although Stone effuses enthusiasm at Spirin's recent works with Julie Andrews and Madonna, it's not the fame wave ride that captured us at all. No, we found the heart of the illustrator within a quiet corner in less prominent pieces like: "Moses The Long Road to Freedom," "The Story of Noah and the Ark," and "Joy to the World" (bookcover, watercolor, retail $12,000). Here, there's a sense of greater meaning, intricate purpose, and true artist immersion. If only I could tell you. But what we really loved (and I mean wanted-to-post-it-on-billboards-in-Times-Square loved) were the wondrous treasures in smaller works depicting the seven plaques. "Snakes," "Toady," and "Cloud of Cicadas," will leave you feeling as if you lived through these torments, you're oh so very sorry for it, and you'll never sin again. Whether you're a environmentalist, a creepy-crawly lover, or a true blue religious scholar, you'll awe at the detail, oh the detail.Overall, it's a fine juxtaposition. Fine art children's book illustration, a respectful collaboration between master illustrator and gallery owner, themes involving the holidays, stories from the bible, all embedded within a delightful, promising, childlike October day. If there's someone small who is truly special in your life, if you are thinking of a loved heirloom gift for generations to come, or if you are a connoisseur of fine specialized art, Stone's gallery is truly a radiant ruby and Spirin's work is the diamond on both sides.