Contrasting artists share gallery space

Exhibit: Two sculptors showcase their unusual styles.

March 04, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

In one half of the Columbia Association Art Center's main gallery, a bronze and steel skeleton wearing rubber gloves like loose, wrinkled skin stands near a rumpled bed full of bug-like creatures and strewn with flat rubber casts of body parts.

On the other side of the gallery, deep-hued rectangular panels covered in crumpled metal, thread and beads hang on the white walls, reflecting glints of light.

The artists, Sarah Wegner and Linda Heilman, have very different artistic styles. Their work, on display at the center through March 21, offers visitors an opportunity to explore aesthetic and thematic aspects of art.

"Each artist's voice seems very strong and different from a lot of artists we've seen," said Rebecca Bafford, director of the art center. The selection committee believed "they challenge the viewer on different levels," she said.

Wegner, 35, of Mount Rainier, said her sculptures have "a definite narrative theme." She said she deals with ideas about the body, physical aging and the reality of the self.

In her artist's statement, she wrote, "My artwork is a psychological rather than a literal depiction of how I see myself. Issues such as gender stereotypes, sexual identity, body image and interpersonal relationships as they impact my life are the underpinnings of my work."

Wegner creates with bronze, iron and steel, sometimes incorporating valves, chains and other pieces of machinery that she finds in junkyards and on roadsides. She also uses rubber, fabric and other materials.

Much of her art tweaks reality. Her Columbia show has oddly shaped chairs that experiment with metal shapes and finishes, bronze teacups filled with teeth and an iron foot full of flowers made with metal chains for stems. Each beaten copper blossom has a set of bronze lips in the center.

"A lot of the time, I make stuff that amuses me," Wegner said. "It's definitely darkly humorous, a little bit whimsical. ... It's a little bit self-deprecating."

Bafford called the work captivating. "I think it's her use of the medium in a whimsical and yet very serious way," she said.

Wegner earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Arizona in 1996 and a master's in fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art - where she switched from painting to sculpture - in 2000.

For the past four years, she has been making sculptures, working out of a studio in Northeast Washington. She also teaches sculpture at Prince George's Community College and works as an administrative assistant at a physician's office.

She said she likes to display her sculptures in installations rather than individually. "My works communicate with each other," she said. "I feel like I have to give them some sort of a world to exist in."

Heilman, 44, of Roland Park is not interested in getting a message across. She wrote in her artist's statement, "The motivation for my work is entirely aesthetic, having an intentional absence of theme. ... Challenging the viewer's immediate recognition of the elements and tactile themes continue to be of interest to me in exploring collage."

Heilman uses wrinkled foil coated with ink to give one long, rectangular piece a three-dimensional surface. Strings of tiny, iridescent beads are threaded around the wrinkles.

Other pieces have crumpled foil interspersed with gold and copper thread on one half, and dyed gauze over shiny gold and copper surfaces on the other half.

"I like the fact that they provoke a lot of scrutiny," said Heilman. "Everybody does touch my stuff. ... I can't help it."

One piece that stands on its own is a flat, round disc covered in wrinkled foil colored with orange ink. Bits of mirrored glass and shiny blue metal show through gaps in the foil covering, and plastic beads on wires rattle against the surface as the disk rotates slowly on a simple stand. A broken mirror and loose beads cover the base of the stand.

The moving kinetic sculpture is "something we have not had much of," Bafford said. "The juxtaposition with the wall pieces is really an exciting combination."

Heilman said she has always made clothing and jewelry. "I just like making decorative art," she said.

Heilman took classes in the fiber department of Maryland Institute College of Art in the early 1980s and studied drawing, painting and art history at Towson University in the early 1990s.

She started making larger works of art in 1991 and continues to create in her spare time from her job as a social worker for the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

Heilman, who uses her living room as her studio, said she never draws or sketches her plans, although she does have an idea about what she wants to do before she starts. "It's really time-consuming," she said, "but I really like doing it."

Bafford said gallery curators have been "surprised and pleased by the reaction of the audiences. ... It's a real pleasure to see people captivated by something new."

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