These days, hotel guests have a chance to enjoy ever more fine art curated by specialists. Where the art once might have been limited to generic prints bought en masse and not meant to stand out, works today are often original commissions and hold pride of place. For some, it’s even a major branding effort now. But art doesn’t have to be splashy to get noticed.
The Thompson Washington D.C. in the capital’s repackaged Navy Yard district is home to such a subtle collection, and one whose works were largely chosen to fit the hotel’s maritime setting and design themes throughout as well.
Perhaps the most prominent piece at the Thompson is actually tucked away somewhat on the wall in the lobby’s elevator foyer. As you wait for your lift, you can’t help but often encounter Berkeley-based photographer Deborah Oropallo’s Chamber Maid (2017).
Rich in texture and tone, the limited edition print looks like a painting, and you may not realize until closer inspection that the artist works in digital montages. Fans of her work readily recognize her other images of Captain Hook or Napoleon, and characters from royalty to clowns that are not at all what they seem at first, or even second and later glances.
The artist in effect blends traditional European portrait styles with ultra glam and fashion-y costuming. Blend is the operative word as in one image you might first see a 17th-century dandy, the next moment someone sporting a very modern look in garter and high boots. All in the same image. Oropallo plays on gender as much as history, and Chamber Maid like others of her characters has a distinct androgynous look to her/him.
“I use the computer as the tool,” Oropallo says, “but painting is the language of deliberation that is running through my head. I do not want to just repaint an illustration of what the computer can do, but to push the pixels themselves as paint, and to layer imagery and veils to create depth and volume. Like painting, this process can engage nuance and subtlety.” Indeed, she does. No wonder Oropallo’s work is held in major museums and even displayed in the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program.
In a sixty-some-year magazine and advertising photography career, Al Satterwhite has shot the likes of Paul Newman, Muhammad Ali, and Hunter S. Thompson in Cozumel. In his large format photograph Big Red, three sailors on a raft are engaged in the Sisyphean task of painting the hull of a vessel red with small brushes on poles. Two tiny portholes lend scale to the massiveness of the ship and the task. No wonder one of the figures is simply sitting still on the raft.
They must be making progress, however, as the reddest of reds explodes from 90 percent of the image. Only a slip of white paint near the water line remains. Satterwhite describes this work of environmental photography as “curiosity focused,” in that he’s curious about the people and places he shoots. You’ll be curious too, but you won’t wonder that the gorgeous picture simply pops. And to think as you lie back in your room and admire this work, not all that long ago the Washington Navy Yard was full of seamen or contractors who were completing exactly this thankless but vital mission.
Commissioned for the Thompson Washington D.C., a small illustration of a nude woman—Nude Studies (2019; archival print)—sits in a frame on a counter in a suite that is often used by bridal parties. Two sisters who work independently, but whose work complements each other, make up NG Collective. This particular piece by one of them, Kristen Giorgi who works out of Atlanta, is distinctly figurative in light sensuous lines composing the human form, but abstract in its lack of features and shapes that bleed into the surroundings. The delicate work surely makes its way into many an Insta post.
Perhaps the piece in the Thompson D.C. that most reflects the subtle maritime design theme displayed throughout the property is that of Texas art professor Dalton Maroney’s work Gasket (2011; acrylic on red cedar). Not only in this work, but in others over decades, Maroney has crafted wooden sculptures that are clearly boat-shaped in their symmetrical hull curves and their skeletal framing. As such, Gasket speaks as well to the deep nautical history right outside the Thompson door on the Anacostia River. But this painted piece is perhaps not literally a boat either, and mounted on the wall as it is, might make one think of indigenous totemic or mask forms. You decide.
While you’re on an art binge as a guest at the Thompson D.C., you’ll be happy to discover that the property is barely more than a mile away from the National Mall and all the world-class art museums that surround it. And, of course, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture there as well is full of stunning art and much more. Let the Thompson Washington D.C. kick start your capital art explorations.