James M. McFarland's sculptures are handsome and meaningful. He uses materials well and puts them together into works that are strong in form and content.
"Post-Industrial Considerations" is a good example. About 7 feet in height, it consists of a small, ceramic, house-like form supported by a structure of stiff black steel mesh that flows out and down from the house to the floor. The piece's lines and overall shape, its complementary colors (gray and black), the tension created by the sight of a solid supported by a hollow structure, and the visual irony of a base many times larger than what it supports all make a satisfying work quite independent of any reference to the world. But the work has another level as well; McFarland presumably also makes the point about the "house" -- contemporary society -- resting on a huge mass of industrial waste, and by extension implies a condemnation of man's treatment of all his resources including the earth itself.
This is one of seven McFarland sculptures in the latest "Maryland on View" at Maryland Art Place, and McFarland is one of seven artists in the exhibit, some of whom please more than others.
In this case, the stars are McFarland and Jeremy Jelenfy. Jelenfy's small black and white paintings on found materials (usually wood) are often placed in a milieu of other found materials -- old, battered and bruised pieces of wood and metal -- which give them the look of relics.
The paintings themselves usually involve a starkly lighted figure in an almost empty landscape, with a row of trees to one side. The figure may stand for the loneliness of the individual, or the survivor of the apocalypse wandering the deserted earth, or it may have a religious meaning. The smaller of two paintings in the wall-size work "Ascent to a Dark Heaven" apparently shows the murder of one man by another. Cain and Abel? The world's original war? The enigmatic nature and multiple possibilities of meaning in these works add to their allure.
The other artists include Carol Shuford, who makes giant objects out of some sort of fiber that looks like concrete. They have the form of small objects -- a bead, an essence bottle -- that have suddenly become huge, so that wandering among them one feels as if one has been shrunk to the size of a bug. They're not exactly witty, but they're fun.
Dana Simson's ceramic sculptures at first glance look funny, but their heavy titles -- "The Lessons of History," "Strange Addiction" -- tell you there's something serious going on. Some of these don't work as well as they might, but "The Persistence of Religion," which suggests that all religions are aspects of the same immense fraud, is effective. Simson has supplied written explanations of these works, but a work of art should be able to communicate on its own; if it has to be explained it's not doing its job.
The show continues through April 4 at Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St. Call (410) 962-8565.