Nature in the abstract Review: University of Maryland art exhibit suggests rather than imitates.

September 29, 1997|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Although abstract art often seems far removed from everyday reality, some abstract artists are emulating patterns and rhythms they find in nature. It may not be easy to pin an exact label on the resulting abstractions these artists produce, but you can at least get a feeling for the underlying structures in both organic and inorganic forms.

That's the curatorial premise behind "Structural Archetypes," an eight-artist exhibit at the Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, College Park. Curated by artist and art administrator Julie Nelson, the show is this year's edition of an annual "Crosscurrents" exhibit that features regional artists and curators who will be familiar to devout gallery-goers in the area.

Maybe the best way to venture into this abstract terrain is to consider first those artists who retain some direct references to realism. Stacey Redford McKenna's paintings of trees are somewhat abstracted, but you never lose sight of the trunks and roots. She's obsessed with the structural components that feed and support a lofty tree. That's why she won't show you the tops of trees, preferring to keep the perspective closer to the ground. In "Depth and Distance," the emphasis is on an above-ground root system as much as on the tree trunks.

Similarly interested in the column-like aspect of tree trunks, Carolyn Lyons Horan has a series of watercolors epitomized by the two closely spaced trunks in "Trees in Tango." There is a symmetrical beauty here, as the trees curve upward like dancers who want to accompany each other without bumping.

The other artists in the show are much less overt with their natural references.

Although nature-derived images appear in Edda Jakab's paintings, and her palette is rich in shades of green, she remains an abstractionist here. The dark dots in "Inside Green" seem seed-like, but they're just dots floating amid variously hued greens; "Purple Blues" does include grape-like clusters, but don't try picking them.

Natural forms and energy are suggested by Jakab. She simulates the rhythms of nature, as does Diane Kuthy. The lozenge shapes in Kuthy's paintings can be interpreted as seeds by those who insist on literal explanations, but otherwise they're simply repeated forms. In the seven small paintings that make up "Tincture and Light," the lozenges are by turns easy and hard to make out in a painterly mix that also includes roughly abraded passages. Kuthy makes it a bit of a game to find all the lozenges.

If the above-mentioned artists are concerned in a general way with natural structures, K. Leigh Taylor has a more specific agenda: ceramic sculptures that resemble seed pods or wombs. In "Secret Places," a gourd-like object has a red-splotched orifice that seems reproductive in nature. Birth is definitely the subject in "Nurtured Phases," in which small, earth-toned pods are cracked open to reveal red, egg-like forms inside.

Slightly ominous organic associations also are conjured up by Nicole Fall. Her bronze "Spores," for instance, are a large gathering of leggy, impossible-to-name forms hanging from the gallery ceiling. Their knotted and twisted "legs" kick out into the air as if announcing their presence, but who can say what species dangles before us?

Fall's multiple-piece installations suggest natural communities. It's a notion shared by Al Zaruba in several installation-oriented pieces. In "Epilogue," Zaruba has constructed a village of cage-like dwellings atop leg-like sticks. As architecture, it's so deliberately primitive that you can't say for sure whether these are dwellings for creatures or the creatures themselves.

A pleasing ambiguity also informs an untitled installation by Jyung Mee Park in which hand-folded sheets of white paper are used to create five cone-like forms that resemble Christmas trees on a sales lot. They're so perfectly shaped and luminous, however, that they may also remind you of a mineral's structure as revealed by a microscope.

Art review

What: "Structural Archetypes"

Where: Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, College Park, 1202 Art Sociology Building (off Campus Drive)

When: Noon-4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; noon-9 p.m. Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Saturdays; through Oct. 18

` Call: 301-405-2763

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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