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Reality Painting

Works by John Clendening, on display in Georgetown, show unbiased brushstrokes.

From his studio in his Alexandria home, John Clendening looks at and paints the world with a realistic brush.

Through the end of the month, his works are on display at the Spectrum Gallery, in Georgetown, as part of a juried, group exhibition. “The gallery was founded in 1964 by a group of artists who wanted to work with other artists,” said John Blee, the director at Spectrum. “Right now we represent 29 artists. The artists are juried in, and are given the opportunity to be part of, a group show and have a one-person show."

The works in the show at Spectrum include a silver coffeepot that Clendening's wife owns, one of her scarf’s, China that his wife inherited from an aunt and even garbage washed ashore along the Potomac River.

He describes his work as realistic. “I look at ordinary things and if I think they might make a good painting, I bring them into the studio and paint them,” he said.

“I like contrasting colors,” Clendening said. “I thought my wife’s scarf would make a good background for the fruit in the painting.”

Clendening's work offers a special touch, Blee said. "He has a high degree of technical skill and his work portrays exactly what he sets out to portray.”

CLENDENING BEGAN painting when he was five or six years old. “The first thing that I remember painting was an airplane because one of my friend’s parents was a pilot in World War II,” Clendening said. “The first thing I every sold was a portrait that I did when I was in school.”

He received his training at the Corcoran School in Washington and worked in the District for most of his career. He served as the Marine Corps’ official combat painter during Vietnam. “I spent about six weeks in Vietnam in 1968,” Clendening said. “I wasn’t really scared because it was so interesting.”

Most of his paintings from that period hang in the Marine Corps museum at the Navy Yard, but one has a place of honor in the Pentagon. He also worked at the Smithsonian Museum, beginning at the Museum of American History and following that with a stint as director of design at the Air and Space Museum.

“I really enjoyed my time at the Smithsonian,” Clendening said. “It was always interesting to see exhibits take shape and then to watch as people enjoyed them.”

After his time at the Air and Space Museum, Clendening retired and has devoted himself to his art. “I work mostly in oils, but also do some things in water color and, of course, portraits in charcoal. Everything in this show is in oil,” he said.