Making art of memories

ART

Stylized works recall Michigan childhood

May 18, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Judeth Pekala Hawkins' serene paintings of girls and young women at Galerie Francoise evoke the artist's vivid memories of childhood and the simplicity of American folk culture.

Hawkins' works are executed mostly on canvas and paper, and she gives them homespun titles, such as Sky Is Blue, Women Watch, Taking Turns, that mirror the directness of her images.

Her pictures are charmingly stylized depictions of ordinary people engaged in everyday activities that somehow seem extraordinary, and they are rendered in simplified forms and soft, harmonious colors that recall the early work of the mid-20th-century American modernist Milton Avery.

Hawkins studied painting at the University of Michigan in the 1970s and later settled in Baltimore. But during the 1980s, painting had to take a back seat to other priorities when she and her family moved to Pennsylvania, built a house and established a picture-framing business there.

About a decade ago, with her daughters grown older and the business on track, the artist was finally able to resume painting seriously. Her first works were about her own experiences as a young mother. Later, she began to incorporate religious imagery into her pictures and experiment with glazing and hand-made stencils, processes evident in her recent work. In 1998, Hawkins closed the frame shop to devote herself full time to painting.

The present exhibition, which includes about 20 works, draws on Hawkins' memories of growing up in Michigan and her youthful search for a sense of identity and purpose.

Many of the pictures have the quality of allegory. In Swing Your Partner, for example, the shape of a square-dancing couple's arms, as seen from slightly above, form the shape of a sideways numeral "8," which is also the mathematical symbol for infinity. It's an image that conveys both the inexhaustibility of human relationships and their potential longevity.

In I Sit Sunk in Sand, a group of young women dance around a seated female figure who seems both part of the group and isolated from it. Perhaps this is about the eternal tension between the social pressure to "fit in" and the heart's desire to uncover one's own uniqueness.

This is an enchanting show of great wit and restraint. Some of the images are pretty enough to be postcards; yet they never sink to the level of mere illustration, and even the most uncomplicated of them have a quiet poetry that's all their own. The show runs through June 12. The gallery is at 2360 W. Joppa Road in Lutherville. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-337-2787.

Beveled Edge

Janis Jagodzinski's amazing pop-art-inspired textiles at the Beveled Edge gallery combine weaving, embroidery, quilting and applique to create eye-popping trompe l'oeil effects.

Jagodzinski's genius with needle and thread is almost too facile. Her images of birds, flowers and human faces have the flawless surfaces of mass-produced, machine-made designs, yet closer inspection reveals each one to be a marvel of handcrafted artistry.

The artist confounds the eye with confabulations of commonplace fabrics employed in clever, unexpected ways - upholstery patterns, denims, cottons and synthetics that play against one another to form striking figure-ground combinations.

Jagodzinski is especially virtuosic in her use of free-hand stitching to shade the contours of her figures, giving the otherwise flat patches of color a realistic three-dimensional feel. As the artist notes, "I use fabric as my pallet, the sewing machine as my medium, and stitching becomes the brush with which I paint."

Though her subject matter is inherently lighthearted and somewhat limited in emotional range, she pulls it off with great panache and a first-rate sense of design. If nothing else, she'll make you smile.

The companion exhibition of abstract collages by Murray Goodsett is a bit too vague and noncommittal for my taste, but some will doubtless admire its purely decorative qualities.

The show runs through July 15. The gallery is at 5909 Falls Road in Mount Washington. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 410-435-1427.

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