Sculptor shows positive growth Environment: A clearer vision, a more subtle hand mark artist's maturation in statements on man's relationship with nature.

October 20, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Sculptor Brent Crothers uses trees (but only already dead trees) to make works about environmental concerns. In the past, his sculptures were often obvious but forceful. A shovel with a dead tree as a handle, titled "Digging Our Own Graves," made the point that if humans kill enough trees they'll destroy the planet.

His current show at Galerie Francoise reveals a significant change, for this group of wood and copper sculptures makes positive rather than negative points about the interconnectedness of man and nature. With the right kind of effort, the two can live together in harmony and be mutually beneficial, these works assert.

They actually have two levels. Crothers combines wood and copper, the wood strongly physical, the copper either covering the top of the wood or folded and bunched together so that it looks like the human brain. Wood represents both the human body and nature in general, while the copper represents both the human mind and the human being in relation to nature. The mind and body can coexist to their mutual benefit, or the mind can cause the body's premature death (through drugs, for instance). In the same way, the human race can coexist with nature or kill it.

But Crothers sustains a positive tone here. "Innernet" has a massive wooden body covered by copper pipe hammered to look like a human brain. The inner network of the brain determines the fate of the body. In "We Are One," a bunching of copper wire nestles between two chunks of wood whose grain echoes the V-shape of the copper. Mind and body one, man and nature one.

In "Everything I've Ever Done," three wooden poles ascend to form a pyramid from whose apex hangs a bunch of branches reaching toward the ground. In the cycle of life, a tree grows up from the ground, but its seeds must return to the ground to make new life. In the artist's terms, this work may mean that everything he's ever done has been in advocacy of this renewal.

These are Crothers' strongest pieces so far, visually and in terms of their content. How good to see an artist who combines a consistent vision with a steadily maturing means of expressing it.

Galerie Francoise et ses freres, in Green Spring Station at Falls and Joppa rzads, is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. The Crothers show runs through Oct. 31.

Call 410-337-2787.

The start of something big

The Maryland Institute, College of Art is one of six arts schools around the country to receive a $50,000 Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest grant to develop arts education programs for inner-city children.

MICA President Fred Lazarus expects other grants to follow. "Assuming that we come up with a solid program, we hope there will be $400,000 to $500,000 in implementation grants over four lTC or five years," he said.

He envisions the MICA program will be focused on elementary and middle-school children and involve institute students in leadership roles, with faculty support.

"From my perspective, such community projects have multiple benefits," he said. "They can help schoolchildren grow beyond what happens in the classroom and help our students learn about people of different backgrounds and build teamwork skills that will make them more successful and better artists."

Pigatt retrospective

African-American sculptor Anderson Pigatt was born in Baltimore in 1928 and became a furniture restorer in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, when he also began to carve powerful wooden sculptures that reflect both his African heritage and the trials that have beset African-Americans. Works such as the brooding head called "Hope" (1964) and "Khadeja," (1968) a face of great dignity that stands out in sharp relief on its stark white background, possess a monumentality that owes much to simplicity.

Pigatt earned some recognition during his New York years, then in 1977, he moved back to Baltimore and has lived here since. He has continued to create, and his work has appeared at three Artscapes in the past 10 years. Now Maryland Art Place has opened a retrospective of 34 of his sculptures dating from 1964 to 1998.

Pigatt's best works communicate on an elemental level that's like a force of nature. "Slave Girl" (1967) is a nude woman standing on a small pedestal with a ball and chain attached to one leg and a string of pearls around her neck. She exists between the cruelties of earth and the promise of heaven, superior to those who keep her in bondage.

In recent years, Pigatt's work has gone in two directions. Some of his sculptures are complex, colorful and hierarchical: The five-level "Oneness" (1997) ascends from dead souls of the past through a multicultural ideal of life to the visage of the Almighty. Others are stylized figures, such as "America's African Violet" (1996) and "An African American Princess" (1997).

Pigatt's good at whatever he does, but there's a certain sense of straining for effect in these later works and, consequently, less of the artist's soul.

On the second floor at Maryland Art Place, "RoadMAP" presents a group of artists from Somerset County on the Eastern Shore and Allegany County in Western Maryland. A curator from each county selected the artists from the other county, and the show will travel to the two counties.

Great idea, but alas, not a very good show. Most of these artists display more skill than substance. Among the exceptions, Frank de Costa's gambling scenes, such as "Card Players," possess the atmosphere of the all-night game. Steven R. Matthews' big linocuts, such as "Hate," are imposing visual images, though their content's not original. On the whole, though, this show leaves the viewer feeling let down.

Maryland Art Place, at 218 W. Saratoga St., is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The current shows run through Nov. 14.

Call 410-962-8565.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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