An unsentimentalized remembrance of things past

August 30, 1993|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Contributing Writer

ART REVIEW

What:

"Past Presence: Louis G. Bowers, Tom Duncan and Allegra Marquart"

Where: Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, Towson.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and evenings and weekends when events are scheduled in Kraushaar Auditorium. Through Oct. 22.

% Call: (410) 337-6333.

The three artists revisiting their childhood in an exhibit at Goucher College come up with images that are surreal, disorienting, ominous and only on occasion happy. "Past Presence: Louis G. Bowers, Tom Duncan and Allegra Marquart" likewise encourages gallery visitors to think back on their own formative years without benefit of rose-tinted glasses.

Most dramatic in presentation are the shrine-like boxes and wall pieces crafted by Tom Duncan. Born in Scotland in 1939, his toddler memories of World War II are memorialized in a child-appropriate manner: toy soldiers and other figures are arranged in theatrically framed and lit vignettes that treat war as a simultaneously horrifying and fascinating game.

In "The Brandy Strafing," a boy and his mother run in terror as they are strafed by German bombers. Also flying overhead are literalized guardian angels and Nazi devils that reinforce the sense a youth might have of the forces of good and evil duking it out.

Scary as that image is, Mr. Duncan emphasizes how children raised during a war are inspired by it when they play; as in the John Boorman film "Hope and Glory," a child may look at war as a great adventure. In "Tommy and His Mickey Mouse Gas Mask," the knickers-clad boy is flanked by two uniformed soldiers. The kid's gas mask would make a great Halloween mask, and one can readily infer he knows it. "At Waverly Station" showcases a child playing a "Kill Hitler" arcade game in a train station.

Completely grim, however, is Mr. Duncan's dollhouse-scaled evocation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in "1939 -- War Toy for a German Child -- 1945." Although the toy soldiers, prisoners and trains still resemble pieces of a game, they evoke the camp's atrocities with deadly precision.

Operating on a more surreal plane, Louis G. Bowers' watercolor and mixed-media works on paper offer scenes that are like fantasized memories. These little narrative scenes are played out two-dimensionally in a shallow pictorial space that can be thought of as the stage for archetypal childhood dramas.

In "Lisa Is Five Years Old Today," the kids at a birthday party are having a swell time in their masks and crowns, but there is a disturbing undercurrent in this children's universe. A shadowy adult figure glimpsed at the end of a corridor might be a paternal figure heading their way to supervise the action; then again, it bTC may suggest paternal absence.

This latter interpretation seems the more likely case, considering other works by Mr. Bowers in which children look on authority figures with something other than affection. In "Miss Ellis Eats a Poisoned Apple," a child dreamily watches as a teacher is about to munch on said apple. In "Aunt Emma Voices Her Opinion," the aunt seems about to strike one child while a second child views the aunt's antics with a priceless look of boredom.

Allegra Marquart (who formerly exhibited under the name Allegra Ockler) emulates childlike scrawls in acrylic paintings such as "Long Distance." Using simple outlines to depict a mother and her adult daughter facing two telephones, she gives pictorial expression to their memory-rich conversation in the space above them. These visualized childhood recollections include the mother applauding a blue ribbon the girl has won.

The primal nature of such scenes and the rough way Ms. Marquart "scratches" the images into the painting's pasty white surface are effective here, but in other paintings her imagery often seems arbitrary and arcane.

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