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Artist Turns Studio Into Gallery

Art is in the eye and the brush of this beholder.

"Each work is an act of discovery. The canvas becomes a field of potential energies — energies unfolding themselves through the act of painting," said Robert Vander Zee, owner of Vander Zee Gallery.

Scottish Walk Weekend in Old Town Alexandria is not the ordinary venue for opening an art gallery. But then Vander Zee doesn't do anything ordinarily.

This five-year resident of Alexandria and teacher at the Torpedo Factory Art Center recently converted his studio at 105 S. Lee St. into a gallery.

This past weekend several hundred admirers of his work came not only to wish him well and view his collection but also to purchase paintings — 20 of them during the opening.

"I have bought two paintings. This artist's style is truly unique. And, I should know because I come from the land of artists, the Netherlands," said Hedy Vann, now of Alexandria.

"When you look at his paintings you actually feel like you are going somewhere. We'll be hearing a lot more of him well into the future," she said.

A pair of admirers and owners of a Vander Zee work were Jim and Trisha Ritzenberg. Their Vander Zee literally commands an entire room in their Bethesda, Md., home.

"We own a really big one. He did a mural in our basement movie room. There are life size figures surrounding the room, even greeting you as you are coming down the stairs. The ‘crowd’ is waiting in line to get into the movies," said Jim Ritzenberg.

"They are like real people. Guests do a double take when they come into the room," Ritzenberg said.

"This was done when Rob was doing this type of work to support himself. He was at the house eight hours a day for six to eight weeks."

Now the artist has converted his working studio of the past five years into his new gallery.

"I've been experimenting with a number of styles trying to find out who I truly was as an artist," Vander Zee said.

"Then a friend from New York came to visit. He took one look at some of my landscape and cityscape work and said, 'Put everything else away and concentrate on this style.' So that's what I did and it has worked," he said.

Originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., Vander Zee was drawn to landscape painting while on a visit back to his parent's home.

"I was standing in front of my parent's home and all of a sudden the land had a voice. I thought how can I put that into a painting," Vander Zee said. "There is a moodiness to the land in Michigan. And, I wanted to capture that," he said.

In a style reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh, both his landscapes and cityscapes convey a combination of vibrancy and permanence apparent more to the senses than the eye.

Vander Zee is able to capture and convey stillness as evidenced by a cityscape on display at the opening, his work titled "Hidden Lake."

"When I see the world around me, I see movement and vibration — the elements flow. As I paint, my desire is to create a parallel world that is a distillation of my experiences with the land and sky," Vander Zee said in describing his work. "Through this painting process I am continually introducing myself to places that I have not yet seen, but resonate in my imagination."

Having studied both in this country and abroad, Vander Zee's paintings are now on display around the globe. He has lectured and taught both here and in other countries. He offers his "Nine Elements of Masterful Painting," a six week year-round seminar for art students and connoisseurs.

Several of his works have been chosen by the Art In Embassies Committee for placement in embassies around the world. He is scheduled to visit various countries as part of the Artists Abroad program.

Working in oil, with layering and glazing techniques, Vander Zee also does figuratives along with his landscapes and cityscapes. The present show at the studio is a presentation of his series "Tempest" which features the work that started it all, appropriately titled "The Beginning" — a 28 inch by 36 inch oil and glaze on wood panel.