August often seems a quiet month for the arts, but just because we're passing through the dog days of summer doesn't mean there isn't plenty of interesting art to be seen. Several local galleries are offering shows that intrigue the imagination and dazzle the eye.
Baltimore artist Cathy Yrizarry paints spectacular aquarium fish with a kind of visionary heroism. Her sensitive pictures of these graceful creatures, on view at Craig Flinner Contemporary Gallery through Saturday, ultimately are not about the animals at all, but what gallery curator Deborah Justice describes as "the courageous application of paint."
Yrizarry's lively brush strokes inspire wonder and delight without ever degenerating into mawkish sentimentality or cliche.
The show charts the evolution of Yrizarry's approach in recent years. Earlier works are disciplined by a grid pattern of overlaid blocks of color, through which the fish seem transfixed in some primeval temporal stasis.
In her later work, Yrizarry (pronounced riz-SORRY) has liberated her fish from both the grid and the enclosing waters; they seem to fly through the air above a distant horizon line, their luminescent scales and fins flashing in the sunlight. This is work of great imagination, charm and power, a delight for the eye and the mind.
Also at the Flinner gallery are prints and mixed-media works on paper by Florida-based artist Lise Drost. Drost's densely layered images conjure up the imaginary landscapes of literary works like Jonathan Swift's classic 18th-century English novel Gulliver's Travels as metaphors for the process of artistic discovery and the mysteries of personal identity.
The gallery is at 505 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Call 410-727-1863.
Andy Warhol turned the art world upside down in the 1960s by appropriating images from popular culture for use in the the "high" art realm of galleries and museums. Ever since, contemporary artists have taken Warhol's achievement as a license to mine the commercial imagery of advertising illustration, movies and comic books as raw material for their works.
Painter Connell Patrick Byrne, whose pop-inspired imagery is on view at the Beveled Edge Gallery in Mount Washington through Sept. 13, is obviously also indebted to the animated movies of Disney and others as well as contemporary fantasy comics and graphic novels.
When Warhol broke onto the scene with his Campbell soup cans and grainy silkscreen prints of Marilyn and Jackie O (shortly after his contemporary Roy Lichtenstein showed comics-derived paintings at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York), the smart money thought Pop would be another passing fad. Four decades later, Pop has become as durable as rock 'n' roll, and a new generation of artists now regards mass-media in much the same way as 19th-century artists regarded Nature -- as an inexhaustible source of visual motifs.
Byrne's paintings, drawings and prints exploit the playful, fantastical realism of big-budget animated blockbusters like this year's Finding Nemo, last summer's Monsters, Inc., and Shrek in the summer of 2001. Like their cinematic counterparts, Byrne's works are easy on the eye, impish, instantly comprehensible and mostly harmless; even when disaster strikes, it's usually long ago and far away.
This work is not as edgy or as subtly subversive as the so-called "Hot Pop" works exhibited recently at Maryland Art Place in the show Charmopolis: A Baltimore Attitude. Byrne seems content to reprise the stylized, mannered amiability of animated images as charming conceptual tchotchkes that coexist peaceably, even happily, with the status quo.
The gallery is at 5909 Falls Road. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 410-435-1427.
Artist J. Thomas Wells spent part of his youth as an American serviceman stationed in Japan during the 1960s, and one wonders if the experience is an unconscious source of imagery for the magical works he began creating after switching a few years ago from watercolor and photography to assemblage.
Wells' recent pieces, on view at Baltimore's Maryland Federation of the Art gallery through Sept. 20, are created from cast-off materials -- vehicle parts, musical instruments, bicycle sprockets, jewelry, bits of feather and fabric, a discarded shovel, a wooden canoe paddle, brass rods, strings, stone and wire.
The artist stores these found objects in his studio, where they may sit for years until an idea strikes and he transforms them into part of an intricate sculptural invention.
Some of the pieces have the fearsome elegance of Japanese samurai armor, others of African masks. They put one in mind of ceremonial objects from some ancient religious cult, or of a wild and improbable future on the order of Mad Max and his Thunderdome. These pieces are as refined and highly worked as a piece of Tiffany jewelry, yet they also evoke an undercurrent of warrior ferocity that makes them seem mysterious and almost dangerously beautiful.
Also on view are Grant Arnold Anderson's superbly drafted portrait heads of African-American men in graphite and encaustic, which are as sensitively and sympathetically rendered as a drawing by Copley.
The gallery is at 330 N. Charles St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-685-0300.