Metal gives Wagner art its edge

June 24, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

In her photographs at Gomez, Mary Wagner uses the human body to explore a range of issues from psychological to art historical to religious -- and to make those issues seem essentially the same, whatever age they come from.

Wagner prints her images of the male -- from about life-size down to about 3 by 5 inches -- on metal (steel or copper) that has an aged appearance, so the images seem to come at us out of the past. They might be early photographs, or portions of renaissance frescoes, or even wall paintings from more ancient sites.

Their deliberately murky, worn appearance, together with the lack of facial features, removes them from the realm of specific time or place. The bodies' nudity and their poses, suggesting states from vulnerable to agonized, establish psychological presences with which the viewer can find identity. The fact that they sometimes resemble saints or martyrs in religious paintings implies a continuity of concern between past religious ages and today's psycho-secular consciousness.

Whether it's persecutions visited upon us from outside forces, or those we visit upon ourselves, the nature of suffering doesn't change from age to age, only the names we give it. Are the arrows piercing Saint Sebastian's flesh so different from Hamlet's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

The kneeling figure in Wagner's "Zoomorphic Effigy 4" and the doubled-over figure of "Zoomorphic Effigy 8" might be performing a religious penance, or debasing themselves for love, or being subjected to torture, or going through some kind of withdrawal.

By creating anonymous figures and giving them generalized poses, Wagner makes them distanced and didactic rather than immediate and specific -- somewhat like a play in which the characters symbolize ideas rather than live as individuals. But her works gain force from the physicality of the material -- printing on steel gives them a sculptural solidity that reinforces the corporeal, tactile presence of the figures themselves.

Kim Hunter Clark's photos of girls look as if they're printed on blackboards, and they are accompanied by chalk marks, scratches, letters. They look like school children photographed at some moment in the past which they (or at least these images) never outgrew because they were already grown.

They suggest the children we left behind when all their possibilities were still apparently intact. And yet they seem to say they know those possibilities will fall away -- they seem to imply a knowledge at some level of the loss that life brings. FTC They're sad and wise beyond their years, and make us feel they're playing out for us the masquerade of childhood to preserve our illusions, not theirs.


What: Photographs by Mary Wagner and Kim Hunter Clark

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Call: (410) 752-2080

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.