Upstarts make grand statement at Grimaldis

July 12, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The rear gallery at Grimaldis has the big news now.

As usual in summer, the larger front gallery has a group show of Grimaldis' regular artists -- Grace Hartigan, Eugene Leake, Mel Kendrick and others. But gallery owner Constantine Grimaldis, who usually shows well-established artists, gives his rear gallery this month and next to two recent graduates of the Hoffberger School of Painting at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, both former students of Grace Hartigan.

"I felt that they should be seen," he says. And so they should.

Karl Connolly and Darrell Wilcox are both representational artists of extraordinary technique who comment on the state of the world in different ways, though their conclusions are similar. Connolly paints in the tradition of the old masters, presenting allegorical works in a grand manner. It's the kind of thing that can be anachronistic and cloying, but Connolly's somber tone and serious theme make his works forceful and relevant.

In "Excavation," a naked man with his head bandaged so that he can't see digs a hole in the ground with a hand wrapped in cloth. He occupies a dark landscape, and behind him is another hole, suggesting that he crawls along blindly digging holes, as if in search of something. The painting suggests that he searches for man's lost relationship to the land. It also suggests that we have become so detached from our relationship with nature that even when we try to retrieve it we can only do damage blindly.

"Counterparts," an even more ambitious painting, deals with original sin. To the left, two men, recalling Cain and Abel, battle with giant candy canes; to the right, a woman (Eve) sits in a tree and looks back into Eden, from which emanates a strong light. In the center stands a jester figure, twice repeated farther in the

distance of the landscape. From out of the past comes the jester to present this scene to the present; he and the candy canes suggest that life is a monstrous and inescapable joke, in which we are doomed to repeat the sins of the past.

In contrast to Connolly's timeless scenes and high moral themes, Wilcox employs a jokey, almost cartoonish style and thoroughly up-to-date images to make much the same point -- that "civilization" isn't working. But whereas Connolly implies that the human condition is to an extent the result of fate, to Wilcox, we've just managed to get ourselves into a mess to which no solution presents itself.

His largest painting here, "A Scream," is a scene out of a modern-day urban hell in which the horrors of modern life happen all at once: In a city park, a murdered woman slumps on the ground as the man near her screams in horror and the

murderer pays off a cop. Elsewhere, a pimp takes two prostitutes for walks on leashes and a drug addict sprouts needles all over his skin, among assorted horrors. Meanwhile, cartoon characters -- Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck -- scream with laughter and a couple carry on a picnic as if oblivious to it all. And all around the park, the city's buildings come tumbling down.

The meaning is obvious: As our world becomes unlivable, we do nothing but ignore it or escape into cheap fantasy (Mickey and Donald). At the same time that he's horrifying, however, Wilcox is strangely funny. You have to laugh at this weird scene, and that makes it more bearable if no less pointed.

Connolly and Wilcox are finds. Let's hope they stick around Baltimore and give us more of their pessimistic but compelling visions.

ART REVIEW

What: Karl Connolly and Darrell Wilcox

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., through Aug. 27

$ Call: (410) 539-1080

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