Artists show the results of sabbatical

September 12, 1996|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Libbie Nead's paintings of fountains are like creative fountains of youth for her as an artist. She seems to seek out a fresh approach for each painting, and that makes for a series in which the fixed subject matter is not at the expense of exploring its painterly possibilities.

A faculty member at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Nead is part of its annual sabbatical exhibit, which was divided into two installments this year. Nead and Sharon Yates are currently on the wall. Three other faculty members -- Annet Couwenberg, Barry Nemett and Sings to the Moon -- exhibited in the already-closed first installment.

So what did Nead and Yates do during their sabbaticals? Well, Nead painted a lot of fountains and Yates painted a lot of cows.

Typical of Nead's fountain fixation is "Fountain #5," in which a classically evocative fountain announces its own agenda by being painted a vivid red and having red coils shooting from the top as if they were ribbons made of something other than water. Setting this fountain against a somewhat indistinct, idealized landscape also has classical precedent.

Variations in fountain construction, backing landscape and lushness of palette make for a rich range of related paintings.

In "Fountain #6," the purity and complexity of a white, segmented fountain is accentuated by setting it against a pale, milky background in which a central rear tree has been so softened in the rendering that it hardly seems like a tree. Our focus remains on the fountain.

We're encouraged to look further into a sharper landscape in "Fountain #7," in which translucent curtains hanging to either side of the fountain frame a more crisply rendered tall tree. As in any well-planned classical garden, the artist has a theatrical sense of where a visitor should stand for the best view.

Nead stirs up the scene a bit with the inclusion of storm clouds in the correspondingly more messily painted "Fountain #3." And she stirs up the fountain itself by having blue water flow from it in "Fountain #8." Things really get activated with the yellow water flowing from "Fountain #4;" these bright drips and runs of yellow paint are a theatrical reminder that the artist is in charge of this particular hydraulic display.

Nead sometimes incorporates small classical vases resting near her fountains, and she also has paintings that only feature such vessels.

In "Vessel #5," a green and yellow urn is so phosphorescent that it almost seems otherworldly. This impression is heightened by the extreme tallness of the backing trees and also by clouds whose tops seem like a succession of circus tent tops.

The dreamy artifice of such images becomes even more stylized "Plaid Vessels," which has its vessels placed against a plaid-patterned background; "Floating Vessels," which has them floating against a formless sea of colors; and "Vessel #3," which is made to seem like a planet spinning through space. When Nead has gotten that far out, it's clear that not even the sky is the limit for her.

By contrast, Sharon Yates sticks close to the Earth as we know it. Or, to be more specific, the rural Maine landscape where she is based. Painting on location, she brings her powers of observation to small-scale paintings and watercolors of cows and horses.

"White Cow No. 1" is characteristic of her approach to bovine portraiture. Resting in the foreground, this cow is as much of the land as on the land. Other cows stand behind it amid a landscape where the quick brushwork makes the dirt and trees seem brusquely present before our eyes.

Yates truly immerses us in cow culture, as these blocky animals form various social groupings in totally unpeopled paintings. But let's face it: There are only so many poses a cow model can assume. It comes as a considerable relief to be able to get out of the barnyard and turn one's attention to Yates' series of paintings in which peonies fill a glass jar atop a table. The thickly brushed-on pinks, whites and reds make for floral displays of real character.

Faculty exhibit

Who: Libbie Nead and Sharon Yates

Where: Meyerhoff Gallery, Maryland Institute College of Art, 1300 Mount Royal Ave.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; through Sept. 22

$ Call: (410) 225-2300

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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