Artist with causes has mixed effect

June 03, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

It's possible to admire an artist for his skills and his commitment without finding his work uniformly interesting. That's the case with John Wood.

Wood, who's having an exhibit at the Kuhn Library and Gallery at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is an artist and teacher who recently retired as professor of photography and printmaking at Alfred University in New York and now lives in Baltimore.

Photography is his primary medium, but he's also proficient in collage, watercolor and other media and seems to be able to mix them with facility.

He's also been a longtime champion of causes -- anti-Vietnam War, pro-civil rights, pro-environment -- and these find their way into his works. The show at UMBC is called "Quiet Protest," and an accompanying text panel explains, "His form of protest is subtle and is often discovered as a byproduct of the merging of material with an abstract form."

The works on view are taken from a number of recent series. They reveal an admirable command of media, but the end products are of mixed success.

It is the more or less overt "message" works that come across least well, although in these as elsewhere Wood's technique never fails him. A series on the Exxon Valdez oil spill begins with a text in which Wood writes that the day after the disaster, "I made a list of all the water birds with the name of a color in their name." There follow photos of things as disparate as a group of stones and an airplane, with birds' names superimposed on them: "Blue-Faced Booby," "Buff-Breasted Sandpiper," "Red-Necked Grebe," "Green Heron," etc.

One can't quarrel with Wood's sorrow, or possibly anger, at the loss of wildlife, but these pictures don't particularly communicate that sorrow or anger. It isn't that we don't know what he means, but the works don't have much force.

The best group here is the "Fall Creek Rock Drawings," a series of drawings on rocks that have been handsomely photographed by the artist. It's not always clear what the drawings are about, if anything, but the soft light lends these works the air of period pieces.

And a recent "Baltimore Step Series" includes a number of pleasing watercolor and ink drawings.

The installation here is a bit curious. Why are there a number of images from the "Colorado Series" in one place and one more across the way? Why are there a number of images from the

"Exxon Valdez Series" in one place and two others someplace else altogether?

ART REVIEW

What: "Quiet Protest: Recent Work by John Wood"

Where: Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 8 p.m. Sundays; through June 12

$ Call: (410) 455-2270

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