Three distinguished painters associated with Baltimore for many years are Grace Hartigan, Eugene Leake and the late Keith Martin. Their work can be seen in the latest exhibit (through Sept. 30) at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on Morton Street, the title of which describes their impact: They put "Maryland on the Map."
They are painters whose works and origins are somewhat different -- Hartigan comes out of abstract expressionism, Leake out of realist landscape and Martin out of surrealism -- but each artist has used the particular tradition independently. To see them together is to realize they all come from one long continuity of art, and that their works can indeed speak to one another.
Is it a coincidence that Martin's elegant canvases, so balanced and aristocratic, here and there allow emotion to show a little more than usual, or is it due to the proximity of Hartigan? "The Furies" in particular, in its darkness and angularity, appears less veiled and discreet though certainly no less accomplished than one expects from this artist. And there is a vaguely disquieting, almost threatening air that hangs about "Metamorphosis." The presence of Leake, no doubt, reminds us that there are landscape elements in Martin as well -- in shapes, colors, lights and darks.
To her brilliant color and dynamic force Hartigan brings an element of mystery and repose in "Garbo at Home." It's definitely there, all by itself, and needs no help even from the title; but it also seems at home with Martin's layerings and the underlying serenity of Leake's paintings. One cannot help but notice, too, in Hartigan's "Mannequin's Bride" a certain shifting elusiveness that characterizes Martin's work: Now she is all solid and innocent bride, now a confluence of liquid elements, now a symbol of almost sinister sexuality.
Leake for his part appears at once abstract and of the real world, a la Martin, especially in "Blue Mount Rocks"; the energy of his hand in this painting and elsewhere surely speaks to Hartigan, but there is as always a certain serenity, too, a balancing of elements visually and spiritually. At times, encouraged by the presence of his colleagues here, one notices what a modern artist he is; these works can be seen to be about their color, their brushstroke, their light as pure light rather than something touched with light. And yet he can also remind us of Corot, and of the fact that art doesn't begin at this point or end at that point but continuously flows out of itself.
What above all these three artists share is that they're uncommonly good painters, and on that level their works meet and converse without in the least endangering the integrity of each.