Four solo shows on display at Tuttle Galllery

October 18, 1990|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Evening Sun

The four artists being given solo shows in the intimate Tuttle Gallery of McDonogh School literally and in stylistic terms come from different places. Although their work is not meant to hang together as a thematic whole, this is a somewhat frustrating installation in that it often suggests thematic parallels that are then not followed through.

Certainly the most striking of the quartet because of the intensity of his coloration and the clarity of his presentation is San Diego painter Ernest Silva. Even in a much larger gallery than Tuttle, a visitor standing at a distance would have no trouble making out the features in "Tree and Echo." A deer drinks from an orange stream in a landscape that includes dark, expressively arcing tree trunks planted firmly in a red ground. Over this scene is a pale green sky in which the orange orb is hardly the only vibrant color element to consider.

Such a landscape is obviously not naturalistic. That Silva is bending laws of the natural world makes it no surprise that in a painting such as "Boat, Volcano and Smoke," the man rowing in a small boat approaches a human-scaled volcano. Also, the smoke over his head is a sinuous orange form more than a real cloud.

Silva is setting up symbolic landscapes in which the relation of man to his environment is commented upon by isolating and exaggerating certain compositional features. At times he can be as boldly straightforward with his symbolic content as he is with his palette. There is a series of paintings of lighthouses at night in which typically a lighthouse beam of burnished orange light shoots across a mildly threatening scene in which sea and sky are equally dark. The beam offers hope of safe passage to the small boats in that sea.

If the expressionistic, non-natural color schemes in Silva's paintings often remind one of the master of such an approach, Vincent van Gogh, Silva himself seems to directly allude to that artist in "A Planet Alone, in a Sky Alone," in which the intently open-eyed figure wears a hat resembling the straw hat in one of van Gogh's self portraits. Perhaps it's telling, though, that this portrait seems to allude to such intensely personal painting rather than actually embodying it. The depicted figure seems primed for a personality and yet has been denied one. Silva's paintings, for all their striking colors, engender a too-cool response in the viewer.

Baltimore artist Jeffrey Buhrman mostly paints small-scale canvases, but his allusions can be much larger. In compositional terms, he favors interconnected figurative groupings in which sinewy limbed people seem locked together in a swirling unit. These human bodies also seem to be emerging from the vibrantly hued puzzle piecelike backgrounds. In "Acrobatics," the figures are bald and have their eyes closed, as if they were humanoids going through motions that occur outside of conventional time and space.

The classical figuration of these acrobats -- just look at the sculptural fullness of their thighs and calves -- is hardly the only classical reference in Buhrman's paintings. In a painting such as "Cast Out," the implied narrative of a patriarch casting out what might be his two sons encourages us to think in Old Testament terms without spelling out a particular story.

Another Baltimore artist, Jennifer McBrien, also has religious allusions in such paintings as "The Annunciation," in which the painterly elements include a Renaissance-inspired old man with gnarled features whose mouth is open as if to make the divine announcement; the traced form of two women embracing as if this were an image of how Mary reacted to the Annunciation; and the outlined form of an airplane, as if to bring biblical history into the present age. McBrien's other paintings also rely on overlays of images and time-jumping juxtapositions, which are sometimes effective and sometimes too obvious.

St. Louis artist Joseph John Lowry is represented by black-and-white infrared photographs in which this process results in ominous flashes of light, as in a photo of a family standing in a pool of light just inside a cave. This tourist family is not in any danger, but the sharp contrast of light and dark still makes us somewhat concerned for them.

These solo shows remain at the Tuttle Gallery of McDonogh School through Nov. 30. There is also a new series of window installations by seven other artists. For details, call 581-4718.

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