Opposites attract 7 artists to shed 'Far Light' on world

February 19, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Life is full of contradictions between such things as rationality and intuition, order and chaos, scientific knowledge and our own imperfect perceptions of the world. Those opposites have become more extreme in this age, when technological advances bombard us with so much knowledge that we can comprehend it only in tiny, even meaningless, fragments.

"A Far Light," a challenging new exhibit at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, brings together seven artists whose works deal with such issues. By doing so, they serve notice to the rest of us that the effort is both possible and worthwhile.

Ellen Buchenal's paintings, including "Twin Heart," deal with contradictions of order and disorder. The organic forms in the foreground of "Twin Heart" seem to be spreading across the canvas in no discernible order, yet there is behind them a grid-like pattern of discs.

This is subject to complementary interpretations: Thinking of nature, we recognize that the workings of the natural world may seem individually random but nevertheless conform to laws observed by Darwin and others. Thinking of the social order, we recognize there is a constant struggle between the pressures of society toward conformity and the individual desire for freedom.

Jane Margaret Dow's mixed-media canvases address directly the ability of the mind to resolve seeming contradictions. Two of the three panels of her "Spiral Descent" suggest opposites: solid vs. fluid, dark vs. light, action vs. stasis. But they are made by the same means, the drawn line created by the human hand, as the hand in the third panel indicates. We recognize and even create contradictions, so we can overcome them, Dow suggests.

Jeffrey Smith's paintings come to somewhat the opposite conclusion. "Trenton" is a blurred landscape featuring a large tree, overlaid in places by black rectangles. This "war" between the organic and the geometric suggests the war between the natural world and man-made technology. It's not certain which side Smith thinks will win, but to these eyes his tree appears to be fading out and his black squares look as if they're going to spread across the entire canvas and obliterate the landscape.

The other artists here are W. C. Richardson, Kendall Buster, Tazuko Ichikawa and Tom Witt, and all have something pertinent to say. Symmes Gardner, UMBC's Fine Arts Gallery director, has organized a most thought-provoking show. His essay in the accompanying catalog may seem confusing when read in isolation; when read in the context of the show, with the works in sight, it becomes clear and stimulating.

ART REVIEW

What: "The Far Light"

Where: Fine Arts Gallery, UMBC, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 19

Call: (410) 455-3188.

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