Finding beauty in the ordinary


April 17, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Barbara Price-Campolattaro's "Le Ninfee" (the water lilies) at Loyola College (through May 2) offers evidence that it is possible to take on traditional subject matter and make it vital and relevant.

Her nine large paintings (leaving aside six much smaller and less successful works) are simply and unmistakably of water lilies, but they avoid the pitfalls: They are neither stale, trite, sentimental, nor merely decorative.

In them, she explores such things as surface, space and color, but she also creates paintings of considerable beauty, both in individual parts and as a whole. While they are representational works, each contains abstract passages notable for brushwork, color, light or all three.

Finally, there is about the best of them a certain air of mystery -- not ominous or threatening, but ruminative. In their depths Price-Campolattaro seems to have been probing the why of beauty -- what is it for, why do we respond to it, why do we try to create it?

There are three groups (all titled "Le Ninfee"). A triptych, which deals with the subject at greatest distance, showing the water lilies on the surface of a pond, is the most experimental, for the artist changes her approach to some degree in the different panels. It is thus less consistent but in some ways more daring than the other works here.

Then there is a series of paintings of water lilies closer up, in a shallow but indeterminate space; in part studies in color, they are the most lushly painted, the most thoughtful and, in general, the most successful. A third group explores ambiguities of space, and color changes in light and shadow, and are painted with harder colors and more distinct edges. The emphasis here is more formal and less philosophical, but they're interesting in their own way.


Carol Wood has been director of the Tuttle Gallery at McDonogh School for the last three seasons. In that time she has made it into a gallery of interest to the community by mounting shows of real merit, and in the process exposed McDonogh's students to some of what's happening in the area art world. She will not be there next year, because the gallery spaces will be used for other purposes temporarily as the school creates an arts center, according to associate headmaster Hugh Burgess. At the end of that process, the school "absolutely" will again have shows of general interest, Burgess says. Good.

What a pity that Wood's last show should be less than the best of her tenure. It's the 1991 annual juried exhibition, with Arts magazine editor Barry Schwabsky as this year's juror. His selections are quirky and largely disappointing, with some XTC exceptions including works by Pamela Downing, Sarah Pitkin and James Colwell.

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