"Color and Image: Recent American Enamels," a touring exhibit now in the Holtzman Gallery at Towson State University, demonstrates how a craft process traditionally associated with jewelry can be used in other manners, too. There are more than 20 contemporary artists represented in the show and they use enamels in almost as many different ways.
The basic process itself involves melting colored glass powder onto a metal surface. Of course, this fusion of glass and metal is a natural where jewelry is concerned. Artists working with enamels readily produce smooth and bright surfaces on angular-edged pieces of jewelry. The decorative sheen also lends itself to sharp contrast when combined with other materials.
Although there is enough eye-catching jewelry in the exhibit -- such as an amulet necklace by Martha Banyas that is notable for the masklike portrait heads that dangle from it as pendants -- the major thrust behind the exhibit is to highlight the possibilities beyond jewelry.
A number of the artists have a painterly sensibility. Isabella Corwin, for instance, has three "apple fragments" that are like witty miniature comments on what most painters would do on a larger scale. These brooch-sized pieces pictorially represent apples that either have bites taken from them or are sectioned. As the artist puts it in a catalog statement: "Six-foot canvases have sometimes become studies for one-inch pendants."
That painterly sensibility often takes an Oriental turn, as in Harold Balazs' "Japanese Kite in Magnolia," which renders its subject with the vivid colors and clean lines one expects from Japanese illustration.
But the pictorial possibilities of enamel obviously can encompass abstract as well as figurative ends. Rita Deanin Abbey's "Payette Rapids, A-10" is not only large enough to qualify as painting-sized, but it's done on two joined panels in the manner of much New York School art. Abbey covers the surface with arcing black strokes that are likewise reminiscent of gestural abstraction. Then there is the color field painterly effect of Keith Appel's "Goldskimmer," with its deep blue painterly field topped by a red band.
The image appropriation and layering found in much current art may be seen in Peggy Hitchcock's "Stare Down," whose joined panels incorporate photo silk screens of a Renaissance female portrait and a botanical illustration.
Just as some of the exhibited artists explore the painterly possibilities of enamel, others are more sculptural in orientation. Gretchen Goss's "Homes #2," comprised of five wall reliefs, conveys such basic ideas of the house form that it's not surprising to see a scratched in, pictographic rendering of a human in one relief that is reminiscent of prehistoric art.
Building up from wall relief to something even more sculptural is John Killmaster's "Horse Heaven II," in which he applies enamel to layers of hammered steel. The scratched-in depiction of a farmstead, backing landscape and clouds has an environmental impact because of the actual layering in "real" space. In this and some of the other sculpturally oriented pieces, however, one comes away appreciative but also feeling that there is much more that can yet be done with enamel.
"Color and Image: Recent American Enamels" remains in the Holtzman Gallery of Towson State University through Oct. 8. For details, call 830-2808.