Although computers are not about to displace the paintbrush in most artists' studios, a healthy number of artists are exploring how computer technology can be harnessed in the service of the muse.
A two-artist exhibit at the Katzenstein Gallery, "Experimental Images," displays color copy and computer transfers printed on handmade paper by Jane Kelly Morais and computer manipulations by Mary Jacque Benner.
Morais, who directs the art gallery and teaches art at Catonsville Community College, spends a lot of time at both the Xerox machine and computer screen. But there is also an important non-electronic component of her work, namely the handmade paper on which these machine-generated images are printed.
In an artist statement, Morais neatly describes how nature and the machine are used in her approach: "My goal is to keep these machine images as soft and sensuous as possible while exploring the infinite possibilities of my newest tools. Printing these images on my own handmade paper creates a connection between the organic and the technological. It allows me to humanize my relationship to the world of machines we live in."
Using such natural objects as seashells and leaves as source material, she then reproduces these images via copying and computer technology. They become densely layered organic images printed on handmade paper that itself deliberately retains a slightly rough natural texture.
"Sunken Treasure IV," whose images include shells and fish, is typical. The mottled shades of brown and white that predominate in the paper make us aware of how things floating around down there would be somewhat indistinct and murky.
There can be a sense of delicate beauty when the reproduced forms are isolated, as in "Fan Smile." Its images of ferns and leaves could easily have amounted to no more than a forest floor-evoking picture, but some of the leaf forms stand alone against the tissue-like white paper.
Benner, who teaches art at Loyola College and directs its art gallery, works quite a bit differently. She begins with photographs of funerary monuments taken at cemeteries including Green Mount, feeds them into a computer in which they are digitalized and then "painted" on screen, and finally issued as computer printouts.
In finished form we can still recognize these stone maidens and mythological figures associated with mourning, but they have now been painted with loud hues of red, yellow, green and orange.
Conceptually, Benner seems engaged in a project at odds with itself. Her use of hot colors for traditionally contemplative subject matter may have a purpose, but what is it? Admittedly, an image like "Little Gracie," in which the girl is now a radioactive pink, is jolting. But to what end are we being jolted?
Also on the gallery scene, the Baltimore Watercolor Society has a juried exhibit of 30 artists at the Artshowcase Gallery. Stylistic approaches range from Carol Carpenter's "Atmospheric Changes V," which is a melted abstraction that still retains some sense of form, to Edda Jakab's "Cherries and Open Work," which is a very deliberate arrangement of cherries sitting in a blue-and-white porcelain bowl and also scattered across a tablecloth.
Other artists in the exhibit too often engage in predictable pictures of nostalgic Americana and floral still lifes, but among all the so-so watercolors are some accomplished scenes of definite local interest: Frederic S. Briggs' "The Old London Fog," with its 19th century mill valley setting, and James P. Lyle's "Bolton Hill at Dusk," both of which incorporate heavy snowfalls of the sort we haven't had in Baltimore since people started talking about global warming.
"Experimental Images" remains at the Katzenstein Gallery, at 729 E. Pratt St., through Jan. 31. Call 727-0748.
A juried exhibit by the Baltimore Watercolor Society may be seen at the Artshowcase Gallery, at 336 N. Charles St., through Jan. 25. Call 783-0007.