Duane Thigpen, local artist, teacher and curator, has organized two shows of African-American artists that've opened the last three months.
In October, Maryland Art Place was the site of "Original Aspects of Humanity," featuring 10 artists. Now he has brought us "Free to Be: African-American Artists in a Post Modern Era," an exhibit of seven artists being shown in three Howard County locations.
Granted, you can show more works in three locations than in one. But given that it's not likely many people will make the effort to get to all three (and it is an effort; they are several miles apart), I think the multiple site idea has more negatives than positives.
On the whole, this is not as good as the Maryland Art Place show. It has fewer artists and the level of success varies more widely. But it does leave one general impression: A number of these artists work in a collage-oriented way, making works of objects gathered from many sources. Collage was the medium of choice of Romare Bearden, one of the greatest of African-American artists, and he demonstrated that it was perfectly suited to the African-American experience. A people with such a fragmented history would naturally find collage-like assemblage a rewarding way to work.
So we have Schroeder Cherry's wall-mounted sculptures, in the form of people with boxes for bodies. Open the box and find an assemblage that reflects the theme of the work. Cherry gathers everything from kitchen utensils to shells to photographs to buttons and keys for his works. "Many Mansions" includes models and pictures of the kinds of dwellings blacks have inhabited, from Africa to rural and urban America. Cherry's works are religion-based and moralistic. "Black Boys' Plaque" contains a plaque with the legend, "Dedicated to all black boys who grow up to be respected elders without going to jail or prison or using drugs or dying a violent death."
Alice Juanita Maldonado's works on layered paper involve pencil drawing, pastel and collage. Her departure is to draw a black and white figure or group of figures, then cut them out and place them in front of a background sheet, which contains collage and drawing reflective of the generally affirmative theme of the work -- as captured in titles such as "Strong Roots through Stony Soil" and "Brown Hand."
Oletha Devane's one work, "A Southern Odyssey," is part fabric, part wood, part beads and other objects, all gathered in a wall-mounted structure in the form of a house. It's a tribute to the artist's mother, and though it's visually somewhat chaotic it does have a story to tell.
Phyllis Audrey Wilson's floor installation, "You'ze Gotta Crawl before Ya Can Walk," is similar to other pieces of hers shown locally, including the one in the MAP show. It's equally well done, too, and makes its point about individual initiative.
Less successful are works by Ce Scott and Liani Foster, the latter fluctuating wildly between the nicely executed "Family Tapestry" and decorated female forms called "Carnival Dancer" that ought to be seriously re-thought.
The best is saved for last: Penny Potter's five bead works that subtly recall landscapes or places she's been -- "Winter of '94," "Turquoise Trail" -- are tiny (1-by-3 inches), enchantingly beautiful, gentle and quite moving.
Here is an artist who has found her mode of expression and raised it so close to perfection that it makes no difference.
What: "Free to be"
Where: HOward County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road; Department of Education Gallery, 10910 Route 108; Howard Community College Gallery, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway.
When: County Center, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Education, 8;30 a.m. to 4;30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; College, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; through Feb. 23.
$ Call: (410) 313-2787