'Pieces' work better visually than as story At Goucher, two collage artists show works that connect to their own lives, but in distinctly different ways.

February 20, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

"Piece by Piece" at Goucher brings together two artists who have much in common but are quite distinct. Both Mary Swann, who lives on a farm near York, and Maria Barbosa, who lives in Frederick but comes from Brazil, work in what can loosely be called collage -- making pictures with bits and pieces of things gathered from various sources. And both fashion works of art that tell stories reflecting their own lives.

But Swann's narrative quilts are much the less autobiographical of the two artists' works. Using a variety of materials, from patterned to plain and from light to heavy, she creates appliqued quilts that illustrate stories inspired by life on the farm.

These are not all happy, positive stories, but rather stories that deal with the realities of life, including violence and death. In BTC "Rabid," children find their dog barking at a wild-looking raccoon in a tree. A parent tells them the raccoon is probably rabid. In "At Bay," one of the family finds a friend's pet collie who has been killed by wild dogs.

Others are less pessimistic. "Herd" tells of visiting a herd of cattle at dusk, and "Rescue" tells of rescuing a young deer from probable death. But these works recognize that nature offers many examples of the frightening and unpleasant realities of life, and Swann's primarily deep colors fit in with the stories she creates.

These quilts can stand on their own, without reference to the stories they tell, as visually handsome works notable for their colors, textures and designs. And that's a good thing, because as illustrations they're not always as clear as they might be.

Barbosa's circular collages attached to handmade paper also relate to the artist's life, and in fact are more autobiographical than Swann's stories. Made of small pieces of paper that include photographic and written material, they are attached to circular pieces of handmade paper four feet in diameter.

Some of these are mounted in diamond-shaped frames on the wall, but others are placed in five-foot-tall wooden constructions that sit on the floor and that Barbosa calls "artists' books." When the two halves of each book are fitted together, they resemble a child's top, appropriate because they spin out tales of the artist's past.

But these works are far more effective when viewed as abstract, patterned collages than as autobiographical stories. Barbosa includes pieces of her past such as stamps from her father's collection, bits of her mother's recipes and an occasional photograph; but to the viewer they don't add up to coherent accounts, nor do they need to. Among the things Swann and Barbosa have in common is that their works are most successful in purely visual terms.

"Piece by Piece"

Where: Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and evenings and weekends when there are events in Kraushaar Auditiorium

Call: (410) 337-6333

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