Robert Courtwright's best collages, at Grimaldis, have nuanced surfaces with subtle modulations of a single color that evoke a sense of serenity. They can also be "read" for meaning in a couple of ways. But at times there's not a lot of staying power to them; some grow in the mind, others just stop.
Courtwright cuts rectangular pieces of paper from other sources -- magazines, journals -- and paints them. He arranges them in rectangular grids on a backing -- say, six across and five down.
Because these pieces had been printed with words and images, which the paint has not completely covered, one can see things bleeding through the red or the blue of the surface paint. There might be a letter, a picture of people in a crowd, a face, a word.
It's possible to see in these the symbol of a human facade, with so much of the individual hidden behind it that only bits and pieces come through at times.
It's also possible to apply to them an art history interpretation, with representation being superseded by abstraction, but then reasserting itself. There's a little bit of pop in these, too -- is that Superman's face we see both right-side-up and upside-down coming through the blue of "Untitled blue collage"?
But ultimately, it's as physical objects, not as vessels of meaning, that these express themselves, with varying success. The best of them is "Untitled white collage (triptych)," whose three parts stretch far enough along the wall (7 1/2 feet) to occupy your whole field of vision when you're reasonably close to it. Its soft whites and grays promote a mood of calm, of quiet. This piece has about it a pleasing reticence; it doesn't reach out and grab you, it lets you in gradually.
Next door to this, "Untitled dark red collage" has flashes of bright red showing through its deep-colored surfaces at the corners of its rectangles. They remind you of flames, so that the surface seems alive with dozens of little fires.
Others, however, such as "Untitled white collage," promise more than they end up delivering. One stands in front of this expecting that with a little looking its parts will all come together into a visual entity, but they don't.
Courtwright's better works are worth a visit, but too many of these fall short of that level.
What: "Robert Courtwright"
Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Feb. 25
Call: (410) 539-1080