Works in grand style

Art: While all about him were abandoning tradition for modernism, Joseph Sheppard stuck to what he did best. An Owings Mills gallery has a retrospective of his work.

January 11, 2000|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Modernism has come and gone and come back again, but there have always been artists who stubbornly stuck to the old ways and the Old Masters.

Joseph Sheppard is a Renaissance man of the old school, a master of human anatomy who can draw, paint and sculpt the figure with traditional finesse. Sheppard, whose roots here as teacher and artist go back some 50 years, is best known as the creator of Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial on Lombard Street.

Sheppard's immensely varied output over the last 50 years -- which includes everything from paintings, sculpture and interior design to magazine illustrations and books on drawing and anatomy -- is the subject of a fascinating retrospective at the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Art Gallery in the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills.

A major theme of the show is Sheppard's "behind the scenes" studies for interior designs, monuments, fountains and murals -- including all of the studies for the Holocaust Memorial -- juxtaposed with photographs of the completed works of art.

The show also features several unusual Sheppard projects that have never before been publicly exhibited, including a cover for Sports Illustrated magazine, medallions for the Brookgreen Gardens sculpture garden in South Carolina, and designer plates for the Franklin Mint.

Sheppard's work is reminiscent of that of Frederick Hart, the Washington sculptor who died last year. Hart spent his entire career creating monumental figurative works inspired by the masterpieces of Michelangelo and Rodin. His nod to modernism was minimal, and he paid the price for his heresy by being mostly ignored by the trendy art press. But while the avant garde considered him an anachronism, he, like Sheppard, had plenty of patrons and commissions for his works in the antique style.

Many of Sheppard's commissions were portraits; his subjects have included former president George Bush, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Cardinal William H. Keeler and Archbishop William D. Borders, whose portraits were commissioned by the Friends of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Sheppard, who now lives half the year in a 30-year-old farmhouse in Pietrasanta, Italy, is still much sought after for his works in the grand tradition. The exhibition at the Gordon Center, which runs through Feb. 27, is a delightful capsule history of a local artist who has won international renown and a secure place in the cultural legacy of this city by stubbornly sticking to his guns.

The Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts is located at 3506 Gwynbrook Ave. in Owings Mills. Hours are by appointment only. For information call 410-356-7469 (press 5, then 1).

Water works

There's something very traditional as well about Sukey Bryan's mural-size oil paintings of water and weather at C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore.

Bryan's luminous expressionist canvases, which recall the Romantic-era seascapes of Joseph Mallord William Turner, capture the movement of powerful ocean currents and wind-blown spray without ever explicitly depicting her subject.

The violence and the beauty of the sea are evoked instead, almost subliminally, by the artist's dazzling gestural brushwork and cool marine colors.

Bryan's paintings hover tantalizingly between abstraction and realistic description, which gives them a poetic character that is both easy on the eye and a continual challenge to the mind. They are decorative without being saccharine, conceptual without being obscure.

It's an intriguing combination from this relatively young artist whose work manages to be both lovely and compelling in its disciplined understatement.

Isherwood work on its way

A major work by British sculptor Jon Isherwood, who is also represented by C. Grimaldis Gallery, is coming to the campus of the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

A pair of Isherwood's monumental granite monoliths, entitled "Rites of Passage," will be installed this week in front of the Fox building on Mount Royal Avenue, according to the school.

The work, which measures 112 inches by 72 inches by 52 inches, will remain on the site indefinitely as a long-term loan from the artist.

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