Paintings of interiors lead to interesting insights

October 13, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

It's entirely appropriate that Mark Karnes and Neil Riley should be showing their work together at Galerie Francoise.

Not only was Karnes one of Riley's instructors at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in the late 1970s (where Karnes has taught for 19 years and where Riley got a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1979); more important, they both work in a representative style, they both produce relatively small paintings, and they both concentrate on interiors -- still lifes and scenes of unpeopled rooms or parts of rooms that are, no doubt, their own living spaces. Karnes also does portraits and figure studies, and Riley also does landscapes, but in this show, it's the interiors that stand out.

If they have a considerable amount in common, however, the longer you stay with their work, the more differences you notice. Karnes uses a much brighter palette and creates paintings filled with light. His parts of rooms -- half of the living room, or a slice of it seen from just inside the dining room door -- are no doubt carefully chosen, but they look casually uncalculated, snapshots paint.

These are pictures that exist for the light, streaming full in the window or glancing in sideways, but bringing to life the mundane articles of everyday life -- a sofa, a chair, or just objects on a table, such as a pair of scissors, a salt shaker and a pencil.

There's a certain optimism about these works, not only because they're bright, but because they seem to celebrate the taken-for-granteds of life. They suggest that there is joy to be had in just looking around us and noticing whatever happens to be there.

Riley works with a more muted palette, but that's only the beginning of how he differs from Karnes. His compositions are more obviously planned, asymmetrical and with an aspect of abstraction that creates a satisfying tension across the picture plane.

There's a mysterious aspect to these works, too; there's often a doorway somewhere in the painting to another and usually darker interior, suggesting the unknowable and possibly ominous things that might happen to us at any moment, as well as the darker recesses of the mind. The somber tones of the paintings and their ambiguities of space reinforce these pictures' ruminative aspect.

Essentially, they're not about what they depict at all. On one level, they're about abstraction, and on another, they're about psychological insight.

These two artists, shown together, add up to a lively and thought-provoking show.

ART REVIEW

What: Mark Karnes and Neil Riley

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 2

Call: (410) 337-2787

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