'Enigmatic Expressions' When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through March 23.
Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.
It's more than possible to appreciate Holly Hofmann's large pastels on a purely formal level without thinking of what they might depict or be about. They are fascinating to peruse for their colors and shadings of color, their light and shadow, their creation of volumnes and of space.
But how can one not wonder what they are and what they're about, these weird, semi-organic forms in quasi-landscapes or interiors? They may be parts of the body; they may be bodies forming themselves from the void, or after a holocaust; they may be alien creatures. They look, however, in some vague way if not familiar at least not wholly unknown. They are most probably manifestations of fears or dreads, or struggles of the unconscious, and Hofmann's authority of means gives them a presence that stands out in the exhibit "Enigmatic Expressions" at Maryland Art Place (through March 23).
The four artists represented all create semi-abstract works, which all obviously have to do with struggles of one kind or another. Jeffrey Smith's paintings are in two sections: on top in each, a peaceful blue or green suggests unpolluted sky or water; below, panels of blacks or browns or bilious yellows are sinister ,, or sickening, suggesting man's effect on nature. The works establish an effective push-pull relationship with the viewer, the upper panels beguiling and the lower ones somber or repellant.
Charma Le Edmunds' small paintings come "from personal experiences," she writes in a statement. And these little works do look like fragments of memory -- "Red Peaks," "Claw," "Comb," "Dead Bird." The elements in them are distorted but non-threatening, and these small rectangles have an almost jewel-like appeal.
Jo Smail's big abstractions at first look like nothing but inchoate meanderings. But then their veil-like surfaces gradually coalesce toward forms that can almost but not quite be distinguished. They are both mysterious and menacing and in them the white -- usually a color associated with clarity and purity -- possesses a sinister aspect. These are works that can't just be glanced at. They have to be given some time, and even with time they refuse to communicate openly, but they give more than a mere glance allows.