House walls, doors and then some Review: Ben Marcin's up-close photographs of walls move between reality and abstraction.

Fine Arts

September 08, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

An artist must show when and where he can, for there are few enough opportunities. Nevertheless, overexposure can happen, and that's the case right now with photographer Ben Marcin, who's in a three-person show at School 33.

Marcin had an exhibit at Gomez Gallery that closed Aug. 9. It included a group of photos of house walls shown up close so that they resembled colorful geometric abstractions. In the School 33 show, he has another group of wall pictures, not as good as those at Gomez.

In the Gomez pictures, doors and windows could be seen both as what they were and as geometric elements, so the images had a pleasing duality. Most of the works at School 33 show only flat walls of one color with a rectangle of another color superimposed -- blue on white, red on blue, black on red, etc. They present too little variation and become somewhat monotonous. They do, however, have a reserved dignity as minimalist-inspired abstractions, and a smaller group of Marcin photographs of more varied surfaces plays off well against them. Taken together, these groups constitute the best element of this show.

Of its other two artists, Kim Domanski creates abstract paintings on the textured surfaces of household items -- evening wear, knitted blankets, pillows -- and gives them the names of dances -- "Jitterbug," "Watusi," "Cha Cha," "Samba." They have limited decorative interest.

Roberta Tucci's patterned paintings, which combine spirals with clusters and chains of pod-like shapes, have their origins in organisms viewed under a microscope. Her small paintings on paper come across much better than her larger ones on canvas. The former have an appealing delicacy.

Upstairs in School 33's Gallery II, Kim Parr shows a group of seven strong charcoal drawings. The subject matter is simple -- the back yard of a house, populated by one or more people and a dog, with some foliage in the foreground and a row of other houses in the background. But Parr gives these works a mystery by clothing them in such a strong light that it almost consumes the figures. The effect is to veil them and set the viewer to wondering what exactly goes on between these people. These drawings have beauty and psychological resonance.

School 33 Art Center, at 1427 Light St., is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The current shows run through Oct. 2. For information, call 410-396-4641.

Formidable skill

The drawings of Hsin-Hsi Chen at Grimaldis reveal an artist of formidable skill. A native of Taiwan and recent graduate of the University of Maryland, she here shows a series of charcoals with identical subject matter: light entering an empty room through doorways and windows.

She shows a remarkable ability to create light and to explore the spectrum and nuances of light and shadow, from the blinding white of an open window to the deep gray of a dark corner. And she's equally comfortable through a wide range of scales and formats here, from a single sheet, to drawings on three-dimensional surfaces resembling irregular boxes, to a huge four-part work 8 feet tall and 16 feet long.

Unfortunately, the tour-de-force nature of the draftsmanship in these works is not matched by an equal measure of substance. Typical of empty rooms, these do create a vague sense of unease or menace, heightened somewhat when a shadow intrudes through the doorway. But these technically accomplished works exhibit too little in the way of thematic content, human essence or aesthetic weight. When Chen's matter matches her manner, and surely with someone so talented that's only a question of time, she will be an artist to reckon with.

Rex R. Stevens, the other artist showing at Grimaldis, has been drawn into somewhat the same pitfall as Chen. His collage paintings, made of many tiny-colored parts, undoubtedly take a great deal of painstaking effort. Some refer to earlier art and artists, such as Caravaggio and Cezanne. But when one has admired the effort they require and discovered the references, one has pretty much exhausted them. Stevens has shown in the past that he's an artist with more to say than this. He will find his true voice again.

The C. Grimaldis Gallery, at 523 N. Charles St., is open 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. The current show runs through Sept. 27. Call 410-539-1080.

MAP auction

Maryland Art Place's annual benefit exhibition and auction are under way and will culminate with a gala dinner and night of dancing on Sept. 19. Here's how it works:

About 100 artists, including such well-known ones as Raoul Middleman, Tom Miller, David Hess, Rodney Carroll, Timothy App and Sam Gilliam, have contributed works to the collection. They're on view now, and bids are being accepted in a silent auction.

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