News & Politics

This Intriguing Series of Paintings Depicts the Capitol Fence

Artist Elaine S. Wilson is documenting the manmade “interruptions” in DC's landscape

Barbed Wire and Botanic Garden. Oil on Canvas. 18″ x 24″. 2021. Photograph courtesy of Elaine Wilson.

Silver Spring artist Elaine S. Wilson often uses her paintings as a way to depict manmade “interruptions” in landscapes, as she puts it. Lately, she’s been capturing one of the District’s most significant recent interruptions: the fencing installed around the Capitol following the January 6 attack.

Wilson began work on the series in early March, scoping out spots where the contrast between familiar vistas and newly heightened security measures are most obvious. “I felt I should document how access has been cut off to what should, in a free and open society, be a place where people come and express their views in a nonviolent way,” she says.

Wilson in her studio. Photograph courtesy of Elaine Wilson.

Wilson hopes to do a series of four or five paintings; so far, she has completed two of them. She’s been doing the majority of the work on site—first sketching the different areas and then painting for up to four consecutive days. At the start of the project, she was questioned by members of the National Guard, who wondered what she was doing and wanted to look through her sketchbook to verify that she was a real artist. “Fortunately, my sketchbook was full of stuff that I could show them,” Wilson says. “They said, ‘Oh, you’re fine, just keep doing what you’re doing.’ And I said, ‘You know, I might be back here repeatedly. Will that be okay?’ He said, ‘As long as you’re okay with us coming up to you every single time and asking you what you’re doing.’”

Gate in the Fence at New Jersey and D St. SE. Oil on Wood Panel. 12″ x 16″. 2021. Photograph courtesy of Elaine Wilson.

However, police recently informed Wilson that she can no longer set up her easel near the Capitol, so she isn’t sure how she’ll proceed with the project. She isn’t enthusiastic about continuing it from her studio. For one thing, she doesn’t like to paint from photographs because there are differences between camera-captured colors and colors seen by one’s eye. Plus the experience of actually being at the Capitol has been invaluable. Many passersby have stopped to watch her paint and ask about her work. “Almost everybody expressed being appalled at the fence, being appalled at what happened on January 6,” Wilson says. “Most of the time, people were incredibly supportive of what I was doing.”