Two-artist show at Towson evokes thought, memory

July 07, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

The works of Peter Dubeau and Mia Halton, now at Towson State, are quite different, and yet in a way they go together. Both recall earlier 20th-century art movements. Both create ambiguous spaces in which figures -- or parts of figures -- exist. And both deal with states of mind.

If that makes them sound basically expressionist, it's more true of Halton than of Dubeau. The figures in her images look as if they're forming themselves out of the abstract milieus in which they find themselves, struggling back from abstraction, so to speak.

And they haven't quite got right what being figural again is all about -- they're in all different scales, with little teeny people inhabiting the same picture with great big people, and proportions that are squashed here or extended there -- legs three times as long as the rest of the body, for instance.

There's something of European sophistication in the deliberateness of their naivete, too, something especially reminiscent of Dubuffet.

If these pictures look like a comment on the history of 20th-century art, their figures also represent angst and alienation; but, paradoxically enough, funny angst and alienation. They rescue the world, or at least themselves, from the horrors of life with a sense of humor. They muddle through.

"Oh my," says the guy (if it is a guy) with his hand to his head in "Dona Nobis Pacem," as he looks at the giant ambling in from the left and the row of Lilliputians at the bottom. "I'm not sure I can cope with this."

But there isn't despair in these pictures, and so they end up in their own way being positive.

If Halton flirts with chaos, Dubeau's world is one of reverie. His colors are soothing, even his reds, and his compositions achieve a balanced asymmetry that makes them satisfying to gaze at, even if you don't know what they're about.

And you don't, specifically, for the combinations of disparate things that make up his images -- a foot and another foot up there, the legs of a chair down here, possibly a cross on that side ("Found Ground") -- float around in their moody spaces like memories in a dream.

They're more surrealist than anything else.

But they're not secretive. If you don't know exactly what the artist is remembering, or piecing together from bits and scraps of memory, you can nevertheless identify with these works because they're about loss and death and perhaps even love, or the longing for it, or the memory of it. Not sentimentally, though -- they're much too reticent and well-mannered for that. The reticence also is suggested by their surfaces, whose veil-like qualities hint of levels beneath what Dubeau will allow us to see.

These works reward looking in purely visual terms; but they reward thinking, too. (Or at least most of them do -- "Fancy Dinner Party" promises more than it ultimately delivers.) They are not happy; they remind the viewer of the sadness of the world.

But there's a certain sense of gentle acceptance about these works that rescues them, too, from despair.

ART REVIEW

What: Paintings by Peter Dubeau and Mia Halton

Where: Holtzman Gallery, Fine Arts Center, Osler and Cross Campus Drives, Towson State University

When: 1 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays, through July 31

Call: (410) 830-2808

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