Mirrored art is a foil for gallery gala Looking Glass Ball reflects 10 years of Maryland Art Place

September 25, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

A brilliant sea of gentle waves has flooded Maryland Art Place with color, light and a buoyant sense of peace.

Sam Gilliam, one of the country's premier abstract painters, has created a work of art specifically for MAP's first-floor exhibition space.

With its gorgeous swells of light-weight polyester fabric draped from the ceiling, "Mirrored Act: Chesapeake" is linked as well to Baltimore's relationship with the Chesapeake Bay.

"Despite the fact that Sam is really an internationally known artist, he always has done things for the community," says Jack Rasmussen, MAP's executive director. "So I approached him about doing something here. It's absolutely just a natural for Baltimore. His work hasn't been seen here, and he lives just down the road [in Washington], and is known everywhere else."

Mr. Gilliam's "site-specific" installation conjures the mood for tomorrow's Looking Glass Ball, MAP's annual fund-raiser, which this year coincides with the non-profit organization's 10th anniversary celebration.

In keeping with the evening's reflective theme, "Hall of Mirrors," an assemblage of 100 unusual and striking mirrors created by area artists will go on sale at a silent auction. And in "Mirror, Mirror," 10 artists have designed mirrors honoring "ten of Baltimore's fairest," including Gov. William Donald Schaefer, John Waters and Rep. Kweisi Mfume.

In "Mirrored Act," two huge stretches of fabric -- each 50 yards long -- have been painted with swirling purple, red and blue acrylic paints, and shot with veins of gold and silver. The polyester has been treated so that the paint does not always adhere, creating blank splotches and other surprising effects. "Accident is technique," the artist says.

Mr. Gilliam and his three assistants bunched, folded and shaped the fabric to resemble big, easy waves and suspended it with rope from the ceiling. Below "Mirrored Act," which drifts above the floor, Mr. Gilliam installed a floor of mirrors, adding a sense oceanic mystery and depth. Track lighting, trained on silver Mylar panels made to ripple by a ceiling vent, create a shimmering illusion of water everywhere.

"The making of the work has been the same as the discovery of the piece," Mr. Gilliam says as he watches the work in progress. "When we brought it to the space, we discovered how to use it."

At first, Mr. Gilliam, 59, was uncertain about this piece. After painting the giant canvases in his Washington studio, he rolled them up and set them in a corner -- "like a couple of step kids" -- where they looked unimpressive. "I was certain it was ruined," Mr. Gilliam says. But when he came to MAP to install the piece, he was pleasantly surprised. "Only here, have I realized how beautiful they were," he says.

Born in Mississippi and raised in Louisville, Ky., Mr. Gilliam always wanted to be an artist. Because art classes were not offered in his high school, he joined home economic classes where painting was one of the activities.

Later, he studied painting at the University of Louisville where he received his masters degree.

Associated in the late 1960s with the group of painters that formed the Washington Color School, Mr. Gilliam was recognized by art critics and scholars worldwide for his vivid use of color, improvisational brashness and lyrical sensibility. He is credited with inventing the huge, sculptural, ceiling-hung canvases, such as "Mirrored Act," which transcended the more conventional constraints of the Washington Color School.

Mr. Gilliam has received numerous honorary degrees, many grants, and has exhibited his work all over the world. Recently, he was commissioned by the United States Information Agency to install mammoth works of art in Seoul, Korea and Helsinki, Finland.

Mr. Gilliam's work is not confined to large installations. This year, for example, he completed a series of paintings on flat canvases notable for their application of gobs of paint, which Mr. Gilliam has raked and furrowed like an well-plowed field. The paintings are breezy and full of life. "Coolness is Born," for example, gives off the vibes of some classic jam session among jazz greats.

Currently, these works are on exhibit at the Nancy Drysdale Gallery in Washington and at a number of other galleries in New York, Michigan, California, New Orleans and Paris.

"He did major things to make us rethink what a painter was," Mr. Rasmussen says. Mr. Gilliam's work has an "intellectual component, but it is always something tied to the site. It's so wonderful to be able to tie a very abstract, beautiful aesthetic piece into the reality of Baltimore." Mr. Rasmussen says of "Mirrored Act."

LOOKING GLASS BALL

What: As in past years, the Looking Glass Ball will be a festive convergence of Maryland artist and art supporters who, in dress and spirit, take the party's theme to heart, and schmooze, feast and dance side by side with the exhibits. Aleta Greene and her trio will perform at the gala. And for those in a rabid retro mood, MAP's 14 Karat Cabaret hosts a disco party and a 1970s fashion show.

WHEN: Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.

WHERE: 218 W. Saratoga St.

Tickets: Start at $50 per person. Event includes cocktails, dinner, dessert and dancing, musical entertainment and two auctions. Benefits Maryland Art Olace.

CALL: (410) 962-8565

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