Allan Janus photos prove that good things come in small packages

February 19, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Three Artists

Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

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

Call: (410) 752-2080.

The best of Allan Janus' photographs can take a lot of looking. They may not look like much at first -- they're quite small (typically 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 by 5 or 6 inches) and they may leave an immediate impression that they're throwbacks to turn-of-the-century pictorial romanticism .

But Janus does so much with these little pictures, 50 of which are currently on view at Nye Gomez Gallery. He explores light, tone, composition and space.

They are not just formal studies, however. They can be serene or sad, lyrical or funny.

Take the show's No. 14, for instance -- groups are given the same title, so numbers must be used for individual identification. It's a picture of tree trunks, right? Well, yes, but it's also a study in mood and tone, from light to dark.

No. 26 displays a seemingly numberless variety of leaf shades, and it's a kind of paradox in that, although the image is open to the sky in the distance, in the foreground Janus has pushed space out of this picture until it's almost claustrophobic.

He does something similar in No. 44, which has a lot going on for so quiet an image. It can be seen as an abstract geometrical composition, a study in shapes, and a seemingly endless landscape -- until you notice there's no horizon. Janus has positioned his camera so that the ground goes right to the top of the image. There may be a tiny way out at the upper left corner, but that's not certain.

An air of nostalgia pervades these pictures, but it's not allowed to become sentimental or cloying. The photographs vary in their degree of interest, but Janus is never downright uninteresting.

Some of his dog show pictures, while amusing, do not hold up well, and some of the group with geese in them are a bit contrived.

Janus is one of three artists in Nye Gomez's current show, one of its strongest in recent memory. Craig Cahoon paints with something called interference paint, which has a slight iridescence and changes color depending on how the light hits it. If that were the only thing notable about his paintings, they wouldn't be worth much mention, but it isn't.

His surfaces are variously colored, but they have the uneven smoothness of rock, and on those surfaces he fashions forms that look as though they have been carved into the rock as semi-anthropomorphic presences.

A form can be seen as both head and body, with dots representing eyes or nipples, a slit the nose or the navel. &L Similarly, they look like both religious icons and friendly presences. The richness and depth of Cahoon's surfaces enhances these works, and a group of mini-canvases, just 10-by-10 inches or 7-by-7-inches, exudes a charm that doesn't detract from its mystery.

Bill Schmidt's wall-mounted sculptures are built on the rhythms of repeated and graduated forms, whether they be solid or void, slits or carefully shaped wood. The best of these include "Half Nelson," which avoids the absolutely symmetrical, creating a certain tension; "Bracket," which gives off a sense of some subtle mathematical progression; and "Vertical Hold," with its look of an aged vessel.

When Schmidt's forms get too close to art deco and he uses too much gold, his work comes close to being merely decorative. His best sculptures, however calculated, have a certain honesty of appearance that keeps them on another plane.

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