Exhibit puts range of pastels on display

Art: The works wil be shown in Columbia today through Feb. 8.

January 08, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

While the word pastel suggests the soft colors of spring, artists know there is much more depth to the artistic tools by the same name.

"Pastels are the purest form of pigment," said Jack Pardue, president of the Maryland Pastel Society. And they come in a wide spectrum of colors.

"It's a very gutsy medium if you use it properly," he said.

Several dozen vibrant pastels by society members will be on exhibit at the Columbia Association Art Center, starting today. The display is to continue through Feb. 8, with a reception scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 15.

Pardue explained that pastels can be made into a point for fine lines and details, or the broad side can be swept across the paper for paintlike strokes. They are not, he insists, related to chalk.

Artists have to buy pastels in a range of colors, he said, because they are not as easily mixed as oil or watercolor paints. And the best results are achieved using sanded or textured paper that will hold the pigment.

Pardue, 60, also said pastels, especially with new formulas created by art supply companies, are light-resistant. Works last for hundreds of years without fading as long as they are protected from moisture or smudges.

Many artists have high praise for the medium.

"It is so simple and easy to work with," said society Vice President Ronald Cannon, who organized the exhibit. His landscape of a rare rock formation in Utah and his picture of a window in Venice are part of the show.

He said pastels don't require solvents, they don't need time to dry, and artists can start and stop projects whenever they want.

"You can literally paint with it," layering colors and mixing them on the paper with a finger, said Cannon, 56, an engineer with Verizon who lives in Perry Hall.

"If you've never seen a pastel, it is an amazing sight because they are very, very colorful," he said.

Artist Cher Compton of Highland agrees. "The colors are just amazing," she said.

Compton, 47, teaches watercolor painting at the University of Maryland, University College and took up art full time a few years ago after 17 years with a financial group.

"I like to get my hands into it," she said of her preference for pastels. With no brush between the artist and the paper, "it's very direct. I like that a lot."

Sarah Pollock, 30, of Columbia has worked as a graphic artist and as a color stylist for the Walt Disney Co.'s animation projects. She started creating pastels full time about a year ago, winning several national honors.

"I like that it's very vibrant, it's very immediate," Pollock said.

She said she likes to take her digital camera on "photo safaris" and use the results as inspiration for cityscapes and landscapes. One of her works in the show features a homeless man leaning on a Metro sign in Washington as commuters hurry by in the background. Another is a Hawaiian landscape full of blue and green tropical hues.

Pardue, a portrait painter and illustrator who lives in Alexandria, Va., pointed out that pastels have been in use since the late 1500s. Artists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt were among the best-known proponents of the form.

Locally, Pardue has seen interest in the pastel society grow. At 26 years old, the group, which includes members from neighboring states, is the oldest state pastel society. In the past five years, Pardue has seen about 50 new members, bringing the total to 132.

Pollock said that compared with oil and watercolor painting, pastels are not familiar to audiences. But, she said, "They are coming into popularity a little more. ... They are gaining more acceptance."

The Columbia Art Center gallery is at 6100 Foreland Garth. Hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The exhibit is free. Information: 410-730-0075.

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