An artist must be bold to make art in as many ways as does Robert Wirth. He works in both representational and abstract painting, collage, drawing, photography and printmaking (and is an instructor at the Maryland Institute, College of Art as well).
There are no prints on view in his current, huge show of 73 works at the Baltimore Life Gallery. But judging by what's here, he's versatile enough to get away with spreading his talent around.
Wirth's love is nature, so naturally he makes the landscape his subject. His paintings come in two different styles. There are realistic paintings, such as "Low Tide in Marsh, Grand Manan," in which the palette tends to greens, browns and grays, and the artist delineates every blade of grass. These have a kind of stern integrity, as if the artist says, "Well, there it is. I've reproduced it as well as I can, without embellishment."
Then there are abstracts, in which Wirth captures a place by creating areas of color that can resemble the torn papers of a collage. At their best, as in "Cornish Gardens," these reveal a lyrical sensibility quite different in mood from the first group of paintings.
Wirth's drawings combine scenes in pencil with words, superimposed on the image, that give a description or tell a story about the picture, as in "Six Chairs." These can be almost poetic word-picture tributes to a place, and the combination is no doubt influenced by the fact that in addition to everything else Wirth is a graphic designer.
There are more collages than anything else, and that may be the reason why they're the most uneven works here. When they're good, as with "Someday I'll Go to Ireland," they have strength of composition and manage to suggest the colors and geometries of landscape while remaining essentially abstract. Others, though, are too slight to be considered major works, suggesting that whoever chose this show should have been a little less inclusive.
A final group of photographs show the artist, while not especially original, capable of versatility in this medium as well. He can capture the wings of a dragonfly with scientific precision, or the facade of a church bathed in romantic light.
Wirth's show is the first of a year-long series of six exhibits at Baltimore Life devoted to aspects of the environment.
Each will recognize a different organization, which will receive donations based on art sales.
The Wirth show benefits the Sierra Club; coming in February and March will be a three-person show benefiting the Irvine Natural Science Center, followed by an open juried show on the subject of the bay and benefiting the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The rest of the schedule is still being planned.
What: "Ways of Seeing," the art of Robert Wirth
Where: The Baltimore Life Gallery, 10075 Red Run Blvd., Owings Mills
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, through Jan. 27
Call: (410) 581-6600, Ext. 4797