Rick O'Daniel opens his mouth and out comes the most amazing sentence: "My cat looks like a Holstein," he says.
You can't help yourself. "A Holstein?" you blurt out, maybe a little too loudly.
"Yeah. It's true," he answers. "My cat has the markings of a cow."
Suddenly everything else slips away. You forget you're on a little guided tour of the New Factory, his art gallery on North Charles Street. You forget all the paintings on the walls, the art furniture, the ceramics, the jewelry, the photographs. More important: Where is this cat?
He wanders back into another part of his photography studio and returns in less than a minute carrying (what else?) a black and white cat. He places her on the floor and she mews softly like a kitten. "Her name is Deco," he says, smoothing down her fur (that really does make her look like a Holstein), "and she's the guardian of the studio."
Somehow it fits that Mr. O'Daniel (a professional photographer called, both professionally and casually, Ricky O.) would have a pop art cat hanging around a gallery devoted to pop and contemporary fine art. "It's very upbeat," he says, describing the place. "I don't like the downside of things. Especially in this day and age, every little bit helps."
The New Factory is actually the reception area for Mr. O'Daniel's photography studio here in an elegant old brownstone. The space has been home to a couple of art galleries in the past, so last fall he decided to make the two front rooms, with their high ornate ceilings, into a gallery, which he opened in November. (It was C. Grimaldis' first space, a long time ago.)
Mr. O'Daniel features primarily local artists. The current show is by the United Artworkers, a group of seven local artists who exhibit their work together: Patti Anne Battaglia, Kevin Dayhoff, Cathy Leaycraft, Dan Shapiro, John Sosnowsky, Linda Van Hart and Robert J. Waddell.
The next show will be paintings by Mercedes Linton followed by sculpture by Gigi McKendrick in May.
He also has works by Wolf, Lee Hirshe, Rebecca Greenwell, Dan Deming, John Sealine and Ed Matalon. There are steel art chairs by Lester Bill, framed metal reliefs by Sozrac and a large selection of clocks by D'Antell.
His own photos and paintings are on the walls of the hallway that leads back toward his light-filled studio.
Mr. O'Daniel has been doing commercial photography -- mainly portraits, posters, album covers, fashion shots and commercial product photographs -- for 15 years. You may remember Baltimore's Hottest Celebrity Calendar which he did in 1987.
But recently he has started to devote time to painting. "Art is fun. I'd actually rather paint than do pictures," he says.
"Photography takes a lot of people, but art is something you can do alone. Plus you can do it for yourself and if you sell it eventually, that's fine."
Because he operates the gallery along with his photography studio, he suggests that people call for an appointment, but also says that people can take a chance and stop by, except on Mondays when the gallery is closed. The new gallery is also open from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for First Thursdays, the collective open house held by many Charles Street and Mount Vernon area art galleries on the first Thursdays of every month.
The New Factory is located at 928 N. Charles St. The telephone number is 528-1836.