Show of group strength

'Mirrors': A new exhibit showcases the work of female artists who have created a forum to help them network and learn.

January 10, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

When Frances Aubrey was attending Maryland Institute College of Art in spring 1997 and about to graduate, she realized she would no longer get the routine critiques and encouragement from other students and teachers.

She thought, "It's going to be pretty lonely out there painting just by myself."

So she and fellow classmate Marge Feldman formed the Women Artists' Forum, a Baltimore-based group of emerging artists, to help female artists network and learn from each other.

"Marge and I felt a need to support ourselves," said Aubrey, of Baltimore. "And we figured there must be some other women out there who felt the same way."

The group -- which started with 11 artists and has grown to 60 -- is exhibiting its members' work at Columbia Art Center in Mirrors, which opens today. The exhibit's 36 pieces are a range of mixed-media artwork, including watercolors, oils, acrylics and color pencils.

The Women Artists' Forum helps members network by finding places to exhibit and sell their art, which are skills that Aubrey said are not widely taught in art schools. "We make good art, but we don't necessarily know how to go about finding places to show or sell it," she said.

The group usually exhibits at two large shows and a handful of smaller ones annually. Eighteen artists were selected for Mirrors, which runs through Feb. 9. The opening reception will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

"Each of us reflects our society in our own way," Aubrey said, explaining the show's theme. "And then if we're artists, it goes beyond that because the way we see our society and the way we experience it gets put into our art."

In Megary Sigler's piece "Loved," she created a collage of Barbie doll images in the shape of a woman's torso, surrounded by pieces of a measuring tape. The artwork confronts the idea that there is only one perfect way to be beautiful, she said.

"A lot of women, when we look in the mirror, we look at what needs to be fixed," said Sigler, of Baltimore.

The Women Artists' Forum meets monthly, bringing in speakers such as curators, art historians and art career development specialists. The members, who are primarily from the Baltimore area, talk about how to get their art into a gallery, building their careers and the work of other female artists.

Because so many artists work in isolation, the group gatherings help keep the them inspired, said Sally B. Murray, the group's main coordinator.

At a meeting last month, the members did yoga, ate a potluck meal and then began talking about what art meant to them, which Murray said was a rare experience not found in many other art organizations.

"Many of the members work, have children, families, and this gives them an avenue for connecting with other women artists," said Murray, also of Baltimore.

She said the group provides an environment in which to raise questions such as, "How do you find a space for yourself in your home? How do you go out and present yourself to a gallery or a coffee shop?"

The group also allows the freedom for members to branch out and focus on specific interests. Some members have formed a group that discusses the social and political aspects of arts, and others are trying to organize trips abroad to Greece and Italy.

Juliana Anzalone said at first she was hesitant to join the Women Artists' Forum because she was already a member of other art organizations. But once she attended her first meeting about four months ago, she was hooked. People were not overly critical of each other's art, she said, which creates a welcoming environment.

"I felt fulfilled," said Anzalone, who lives in Pasadena.

Her three oil paintings, Fire truck, Candy and Chess, feature objects sitting on mirrors with their images reflected. Anzalone is not bashful about wanting to profit from her art, though she is working on a master's degree in mechanical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University so she can make a more comfortable living.

"I want to make money at this -- I know you're not supposed to," Anzalone said. "I sold two things in December, and it's like a whole other world that opened up."

Aubrey said the group seeks to expand its membership and accepts artists of any level, with the only criterion being that the women "really want to make art."

The annual membership fee is $25, $15 for students.

"We just welcome anybody who wants to come to a meeting and see if she likes it," Aubrey said. "We have so much to teach each other that it's a shame to keep it to ourselves."

The Columbia Art Center is at 6100 Foreland Garth. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Gallery information: 410-730-0075. Women Artists' Forum information: 410-323-7568.

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