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Patrons & Players

Washington is emerging as one of the country’s hottest contemporary art hubs. We unveil some of the city’s scene-stealers and super supporters who are making it all come together.

Arts patron Blake Kimbrough

Artist Hedieh Ilchi

Artist Erik Thor Sandberg

Collector Robert Shapiro

Blake Kimbrough & Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi
There’s a moment when a collector comes across the work of an artist—an artist who is to become “their” artist—that produces an awe, a high, a sense of discovery so rich that the individual is moved to go beyond purchasing a work, but instead feels he must truly know the artist. Such a moment recently happened for Blake Kimbrough, a board member and two-time curator for New York’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts and part of the Corcoran Contemporaries, where he helped develop its NOW at the Corcoran series. When Contemporary Wing’s Lauren Gentile introduced him to the work of Iranian-American artist Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi, he fell in love with her paintings, her use of meticulous detail and color, and her mix of abstract and concrete imagery. “Since I am a Baha’i, a Persian religion, I’ve always been fascinated with how contemporary Persian artists express themselves,” says Kimbrough, who hopes to dig deeper into the works with upcoming studio visits. “I find Hedieh’s approach nuanced and compelling.” For Rockville-based Ilchi, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was 18, art helps her articulate emotions that stem from her dual heritage. Her undergraduate work at the Corcoran spawned a recurring female protagonist with long, unruly hair, who’s become a signature character in her paintings. “She’s since evolved from a passive figure to a vigorous heroine,” the 31-year-old says. Her work’s paradoxical sense of chaos and order resonates with Kimbrough. “During our conversations, he was completely engaged and aware of Persian culture,” she says. “Though it’s a new friendship, I know it’ll continue to grow.” ”

Robert Shapiro & Erik Thor Sandberg
DC-based painter Erik Thor Sandberg contrasts beauty with the grotesque. “What draws me to vice is what draws everyone: It’s compelling and makes life interesting,” says the 37-year-old, who has shown his work from Mexico City to Norway. His fantastic imagination and surrealist tendencies create morose, hyperrealist works that illustrate the struggle of moral concepts, often in the vein of Hieronymus Bosch, Goya and Walton Ford. Sandberg’s masterful technique caught the eye of CONNERSMITH’s Leigh Conner, who now represents the artist and has been advising collector Robert Shapiro for the past two decades. When she turned Shapiro—a democratic strategist and Washington Project for the Arts board member—onto Sandberg’s work six years ago, he first bought the Crate series, a suite of eight paintings depicting a cast of twisted, tortured characters. “They remind me, and everyone who sees them, of Pieter Bruegel mixed with William Blake,” says Shapiro, whose diverse collection includes work by Gene Davis, Ellsworth Kelly, Leo Villareal and Annie Leibovitz. When first speaking with Shapiro after his initial purchase, Sandberg was blown away by his passion for art. “I’ve never been so flattered by anyone’s purchase of my work,” Sandberg says. These days, the two meet regularly at gallery openings to discuss what’s on view, as well as  Sandberg’s own current paintings. “Robert has a respect for the relationship between the artist and their craft,” he continues. “He understands that even though I may paint images that are challenging or disturbing, they only represent a small fraction of my thinking.”

Click here to read the full article in the digital edition of DC!