The sky's the limit

The Mount Royal Avenue corridor just isn't big enough to contain the city's expanding outdoor arts festival

Artscape Pullout

July 15, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

Artscape, the city's annual outdoor festival of the arts, is bigger than ever this year and includes several new off-site venues in addition to the main exhibitions along Mount Royal Avenue.

Among them is Coppin State College on West North Avenue, which has put up a sparkling exhibition featuring three of the area's most accomplished artists: photographer Carl Clark and painters Tony Shore and Chevelle Makeba Moore Jones.

Clark's contribution to the show draws on a number of series the artist has worked on over the years, including his signature portraits of African-American church ladies, sensitive subway portraits reminiscent of Walker Evans' famous hidden-camera studies of the 1930s, and portraits from Nigeria, where the artist traveled in 1994.

Shore's large-scale self-portrait in oil on black velvet is surely one of the stunners of this show.

The piece, titled Unsure, depicts the artist standing under a dark sky on a patch of dry grass in front of a mobile home that perhaps alludes to the straitened circumstances of his working-class upbringing.

The image records a moment of soul-searching uncertainty that may or may not be related to Shore's decision to become an artist, but which in any case reflects the doubtful mood any of us might experience when faced with difficult choices.

A somewhat smaller, gentler self-portrait depicts Shore sitting in a chair beside a lamp that casts a warm glow over his pensive expression. Other paintings depict the artist's relatives and friends in their tidy but unprepossessing domestic settings.

Moore's work over the past decade has tended toward deliciously colorful allegories of spiritual struggle and redemption inspired by Matisse's love of pattern and design. Several of the paintings are based on Christian symbols or classical myths, such as the Virgin Mary or the Greek goddess Persephone.

The most striking piece, however, is an aggressive image of a mother striking a child, which at first glance seems quite uncharacteristic of this artist's subject matter, until one realizes that many of her paintings are filled with such dark presences, albeit in the form of wolves, or mysterious black-hatted figures that clearly are harbingers of bad things to come.

This is a beautifully installed, judiciously selected exhibition whose individual elements appear even more remarkable as a result of how well they complement each other visually and conceptually.

Among the other outstanding exhibitions in this year's Artscape are the intriguing group show Our Perfect World at Maryland Art Place at 8 Market Place, the Independent Gallery Pavilion organized by Gallery Four on the Mount Royal Avenue median strip, and the Baltimore / Chicago Show curated by nationally acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall in the Decker Gallery at Maryland Institute College of Art.

All the shows run through July 31 except the Independent Gallery Pavilion, which closes July 19 at the end of the festival.

For directions and event information, call 877-BALTIMORE or visit www.artscape.org.

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