'Six Painters' play to their strengths

March 23, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

When seen together, as they can be now at Towson State, the surfaces of Mia Halton's and Ruth Pettus' paintings play off each other in a way that shows the strength of each artist.

Both are heavily worked, but Halton's surfaces emphasize the frenetic jollity of her paintings, like people continuously high on the pace of urban life. Her scratches and lurches and careenings go with the crowding of her canvases with figures and partial figures, nudging each other into corners and vying for attention as if they were a bunch of upstaging brats. You can't make a whole lot of logical sense out of Halton's pictures, and partly for thatreason, you can't help liking them. They seem to be saying that maybe there's too much sense around anyway. Her titles can add to the effect: "Art Is So Real But Lunch Is So Vague," for instance.

By contrast, Pettus' hand seems broad, heavy, expressive, in the grip of some deep emotion, and that only emphasizes the ominous tone of her paintings of men, singly or in groups. Looking at her "Man With Raincoat," one is reminded of the phrase "the banality of evil." Looking at her "The Hearing," one knows that these blank faces are in the process of doing something unconscionable in a completely conscienceless way. That Pettus' paintings feature men, they can be seen to refer to men, but they also have broader implications for the world at large, the things that people do to one another.

These are two of the artists in "Six Maryland Painters," a selection that has a presence. Not all of these artists are equally strong in every way, but their images certainly aren't weak. They can stand up to one another, so the show makes an impression.

The most curious work in the show is that of Carol Wood, whose two thickly layered black paintings, with the paint looking as if it has been pulled across the surface in strands, give quite different effects. The all black one, although obviously a serious work, comes off as faintly ludicrous; it's just too much of what it is. The other, in which the canvas is allowed to show through in slits, sets off a negative-positive, literal-illusory push-pull that makes itmore compelling. The slits can be seen as matter on void, or the painting can be seen the other way around entirely, and there's a certain suggestion of the romantic about this work that doesn't hurt it.

Jennifer McBrien Dixon's four paintings are so different from one another that they seem to reflect uncertainty of approach on the part of the artist. "Glue" is the most substantial and satisfying.

The show continues through April 4 at the Holtzman Gallery, Fine Arts Center, Osler and Cross Campus drives, Towson State College. Call (410) 830-2808.

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