Artists' works scratch at a feeling of loneliness

February 04, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Sharron Antholt's "Transept of a Memory" looks like a Dutch genre painting as interpreted by Edward Hopper. The interior of a room with a series of small niches, opening onto a smaller room with one window, suggests on the surface a neat domestic scene. It is painted with attention to detail down to the floor squares.

But there's something about the dark shadows contrasting with the light-filled window at the back, and the emptiness of the space, that speaks of someone gone -- and gone in the sense, the viewer knows, of death. Ms. Antholt's formidable paintings in the current three-artist show at Maryland Art Place are pervaded by loneliness and death whether the imagery is specific or not.

Sometimes it is: "darkly, for we cannot steer and have no port" shows a burning bier, with a body on it, floating down a river. "The Smell of Ashes," on the other hand, refrains from specificity; it's just an empty boat beached on the shore. How we know this is the boat that carries souls across the river Styx is something of a mystery, but we know.

Its emptiness positively beckons us to enter, and disappear. There's an existentialist level to these pictures; they suggest not so much that existence precedes essence as that essence does not survive existence.

Superficially, nothing could present more of a contrast to Ms. Antholt's paintings than Fred Folsom's "The Shepherd Park Go-Go Bar Paintings," a series based on the life (and death) of a real bar on the D.C.-Maryland border.

Mr. Folsom, who used to hang out there, fills his big canvases with characters, and paints his boisterous scenes with such verisimilitude that we can almost hear the babble of voices and smell the beer and cigarette smoke. "Last Call at the Shepherd Park Go-Go Club," a triptych 6 1/2 feet high by almost 20 feet long (it took 4 1/2 years to complete) contains no fewer than 97 figures; everyone looks like a real person and no two look alike.

Despite the apparent high spirits, however, all is not beer and skittles in these scenes. From the naked strippers with money tucked in their shoe straps to the angry or bored faces of some of the bar patrons, to the fights and the near fights, these are paintings filled with exploitation, violence, alcoholism, self-destructiveness and waste. Such is the surface exuberance these works that their darker overtones may go all but unnoticed, but they're there.

In the context of the other paintings here, "Death of the Park," which shows the bar empty after it's been closed, comes as a welcome change. We know that the denizens of the Shepherd Park have found other, similar places to pursue their debaucheries, but there's a certain relief in not having to look at them. And that only testifies to the artist's accomplishment.

Tom Green is the odd man out in this exhibit. His "Frieze" consists of a series of 12 paintings from the mid-1980s, hung contiguously along two walls of the gallery. An artist's statement says they were made "during a period when I felt a need to respond through my work to events in Lebanon and El Salvador." These brightly colored paintings look like abstract cartoons; there's something reminiscent of both Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring about them. But they are out of place in this company; it's possible that they might be shown to greater effect in another context.

THREE ARTIST SHOW

Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 13.

Call: (410) 962-8565.

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