Exhibit celebrates work of two local black artists

Perspectives: While honoring black history, Slayton House raises gallery's profile.

February 03, 2000|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Regional artists Denee Barr and Arnold Hurley get their moment in the spotlight during February, thanks in part to Black History Month.

This month is the first time in years that Columbia's Slayton House Gallery has sponsored an exhibit by black artists.

For Barr, a 38-year-old fine-arts photographer who lives in Columbia, participating in the show gives her another opportunity to show a series of unique photographs, which are printed on handmade paper that has been brushed with emulsion and then swabbed with splashes of color.

"I really want to show work that's from the African Diaspora," Barr said, referring to the dispersion of African people during the slave trade. "All of the images of people and places that I visited -- while in the Caribbean, in particular -- will really resonate with African-Americans."

Besides, Barr added, "people seem to really pay attention to this kind of art in Black History Month."

Barr's experimental images shown at Slayton House will include scenes of landscapes in Mount Airy.

"The people that know me know that I have a varied portfolio," said Barr, who has exhibited her work in England as part of a gallery tour of international artists and whose works are regularly exhibited at the Artists' Gallery in Columbia, an artists' cooperative. "I have a lot of things to offer, so I don't mind being shown in February or March or whatever. I wanted to show."

Painter Arnold Hurley can certainly relate.

The native Bostonian has been painting since childhood and has always prided himself on painting varied subjects in many styles, including still life and portraiture.

Hurley will show 20 to 23 pieces in the Slayton House show. Only a few have been inspired by African-American life.

Variety of styles

Hurley says he "can't be bothered with getting bogged down with just one thing. I've been painting for 40 years, and I've come to see that there are too many people out there with different tastes. And I try to accommodate them all," he said.

"I spend a lot of time painting things like landscapes, flowers and portraits, and they sell," he said. "It's too big a world out there to be limited. There are nice sunny days in the summertime when all I want to do is get outdoors and do a landscape."

Hurley, 55, has taught at Emerson College, Wesleyan University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, all in Boston.

Over the years, he has exhibited throughout the region, but the Slayton House Gallery show will be his first in Columbia.

He lives in Upper Marlboro and teaches art at Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Prince George's County.

Hurley has been on Slayton House Gallery's waiting list for featured artists more than two years and acknowledges that "it's pretty difficult to show locally. With my work, I have enough black images to be known as a black artist and enough to be known as an artist artist."

Slayton House, in Wilde Lake Village Center, has for many years been one of Howard County's most popular sites.

Rooms can be rented for dance classes, weddings and meetings.

A 240-seat theater plays host to Marvelous Movies & More, a monthly film series that shows Hollywood classics and silent movies with live piano accompaniment, and the Columbia Community Players, one of the county's first community theater organizations.

But the small art gallery has remained largely unknown to the public and area artists, who are chosen by an art committee.

The well-attended exhibits change every month to ensure that a number of local artists can hang -- and possibly sell -- their art. Still, the biggest impediment to the gallery's success is its low profile. Slayton House Gallery Director Bernice Kish acknowledges that "some artists either may not know that Slayton House has an art gallery or may not be interested in showing there. Sometimes they outgrow the area before they become well-known," she said.

This month's show came together naturally, Kish said.

Although the gallery hasn't had an exhibit exclusively by African-American artists in a few years, she wanted to celebrate Black History Month.

"This is a way to give back to the black community, and I think the artists are pretty pleased about it," Kish said.

"And these are talented artists who were scheduled to show at the gallery," she said. "It's not like this show is a theme show."

Barr's and Hurley's "work is very different, but I thought they'd complement each other," Kish said.

"She's a photographer and he's a watercolorist, so their styles are completely separate. But they're both representational, so there is a unity there."

Although Slayton House's gallery isn't as well known as other art exhibition spaces in the county, Kish thinks it's "a good place for artists to show. People are always coming in and out of the place, so we have a lot of sales from our shows," she said. "There's a lot of activity here."

And that's a good thing, both artists agree.

The really important thing, Hurley added, is being appreciated for your work -- and finding buyers. "One thing an artist hates is to have to bring the stuff back to the house."

An opening reception will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 13 at Slayton House Gallery. Refreshments will be served. Information: 410-730-3987 or 301-596-4883.

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