McLean Project for the Arts’  latest exhibit, “Strictly Painting,” is not nearly as clear-cut and restrictive as its title implies.

Viewers who anticipate wall after wall of oil, acrylic and watercolor works will not be disappointed, but may be pleasantly surprised to learn the show also contains painting-like photographs and images folded into hanging paper sculptures.

The 55 works are as varied as the 36 artists who created them.

Eric Garner’s acrylic work “Pinball Machine” features a gameboard-like background topped with odometers for score-keeping and three stylized human skulls, two of which are brightly colored.

Lilianne Milgrom’s “Le Rouge et le Noir” consists of finely detailed portraits of two women on white backgrounds, which are positioned with the subjects’ backs to each other.

“Lotus Glowing 7474” by Richard Weiblinger is pastel-like macro photograph of a lotus flower, its green center surrounded by white-tipped yellow tendrils and pink leaves.

Nathaniel Amour’s “A Digital Painting” consists of a hand-woven cable “canvas” with circuit-board “paint.” The work makes imaginative use of cut-up electrical cords and plugs.

Also in the not-quite-a-painting category is Sanzi Kermes’ “NN,” a collection of scores of screenprint and letterpress images on paper. The works have been folded into diamond shapes and strung in vertical columns on wires from the rafters.

Jackie Hoysted’s “Mix ’n Match” looks like a wall of oversized, fluorescently colored candy buttons, which actually are painted metal disks that viewers can handle and rearrange at their discretion.

McLean artist Georgia Nassikas’ abstract painting “Earth Gold” uses beeswax, pigment and charcoal on birch board to create horizontal layers of tan and blackish-brown, separated by a thinner white line.

“I raise my own bees and harvest the honey,” Nassikas said. “The wax is a luscious, gorgeous part of the harvest. It lets me build up layers of luminescent colors.”

MPA officials on July 1 held a reception for the exhibit, which occupies the organization’s Emerson, Atrium and Ramp galleries. Vesela Sretenovic, senior curator of modern and contemporary art at the Phillips Collection, served as the show’s juror.

Many who entered artworks for the show were not trained artists, but Sretenovic said that did not affect her decisions. She acknowledged the difficulty of subjectively selecting the best works out of such a massive and highly varied collection of entries.

“It’s so hard,” she said. “You want to be fair and want to do [the show] justice. The bottom line is very personal. What’s good or bad? There’s no recipe.”

While Sretenovic chose artworks for the show, it was up to MPA exhibitions director Nancy Sausser to arrange them in a logical, aesthetically pleasing manner.

Slightly fewer than 200 artists entered up to four works apiece for this year’s “Strictly Painting,” which is the 10th exhibit since the biennial show began two decades ago.

“It sort of grew its own legs,” Sausser said. “It’s become a wonderful tradition in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

MPA officials handed out $1,500 worth of awards to 10 artists for works that Sretenovic singled out for excellence.

This year’s honorees and their works were: Marie Ringwald, “recTANGLE No. 1”; Shante Bullock, “A Day at the Beach”; Sanzi Kermes, “NN”; Jean Sausele-Knodt, “Paint in the Mix One”; Tory Cowles, “No. 810”; Lilianne Milgrom, “Le Rouge et le Noir”; Josephine Haden, “Recalculation”; Nathaniel Amour, “A Digital Painting”; Chee-Keong Kung, “Polyphony”; and Corwin Levi, “Camestres Barbra.”

“Strictly Painting” will be on display through Aug. 1 at McLean Project for the Arts, located upstairs at the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. MPA’s Emerson Gallery is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Ramp and Atrium galleries are open daily during the community center’s operating hours.

For more information, call (703) 790-1953 or visit www.mpaart.org.

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