Painter Sukey Bryan and photographer Susan Beard obviously approach their landscape subjects with different artistic implements in hand, but they have in common an emotional rather than purely representational attitude toward the land. They're currently sharing an exhibit titled "The Landscape Reviewed" at the Katzenstein Gallery.
Bryan begins by going out into the Maryland countryside and photographing appealing sites. When she returns to her studio, these photos are but an inspirational point of departure for her paintings. You can sense this in the finished product, too, because nature seems closely observed and then rather freely and emotionally responded to.
Whether in a recognizable subject such as "Streamfall," with the rough brush strokes used to indicate stream-side vegetation, or in a nature-based abstraction like "Overture," Bryan always maintains the feeling of the woods and fields she has visited.
Her dusky palette of brown, white and black often gives her work an autumnal or wintry aura. Sometimes there is also a melancholy mood, as in "Slant of Light," which might even put you in mind of the quieter paintings made late in life by Edvard Munch.
Although Bryan does not have any paintings here to truly stop you in your tracks, she knows what she is doing and remains consistent even through her slight shifts in mood.
If Sukey Bryan uses photographs for studio inspiration in her nature-based paintings, Susan Beard uses photographs themselves as the literal basis for her work. Beard takes black-and-white infrared photographs and then actually paints over them.
Far from being some newfangled method, however, Beard's habit is really a throwback to the early days of photography. For instance, an exhibit of 19th century photography presently at the University of Maryland Baltimore County includes a photographic portrait that was faithfully painted over and thus viewed as an uncannily realistic painting.
There is a significant difference, though, between that 19th century approach to the painted photograph and what Beard is doing. She applies oil, colored pencils and chalk to her landscape photographs in selective and at times highly exaggerated ways. Rather than trying to fool the viewer's eye with her realism, she goes for an emotional heightening.
A doctored photograph such as "Water Lilies" is thus painted over in pale and calming shades evocative of the Impressionists, while "Memories of Ireland" likewise uses a softened palette to accentuate the misty feeling of the landscape.
The all-over painterly application in the above-mentioned works is balanced by much more selective color application in such works as "Seldom Traveled," in which the reeds in the foreground are left as black-and-white images with pale color emerging beyond them. And in "Wash Day," house shutters stand out in blue and plants are assertive green marks against the dull walls of old stone dwellings.
Beard is sometimes too predictable with the prettified treatment given her landscapes, but they always engage the eye. She pushes further in some hand colored photographs than in others, and for that reason one suspects there are many directions left to pursue in future shows.
Sukey Bryan and Susan Beard exhibit at the Katzenstein Gallery, at 729 E. Pratt St., through Dec. 28. Call (410) 727-0748.