Art's opposites form a theme in new `Refresh'

Galerie Francoise will show nine local artists

Arts: Museums, Literature

August 05, 2004|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,SUN STAFF

As a kid in rural Pennsylvania, Nathan Danilowicz had an unexpected reaction to some of his family's most cherished avocations. His father was an avid hunter and trapper, but young Nathan resisted taking up the bow or a rifle.

"I'd find all these interesting things around the house, like antlers or hide-stretchers," says the 24-year-old artist and Baltimore resident, "and I'd see beauty in them. After a while, my dad would say, `Oh, no; you're not about to make art again, are you?' He doesn't always appreciate what I do, but I guess he's onto it now."

That impulse to find the sublime in the salt of the earth drives Danilowicz and his colleague, Amy Schwartzbaum, both recent grads of the Maryland Institute College of Art and co-curators of Refresh, a new exhibition of local artists that opens Sunday at the Galerie Francoise et Ses Freres in Lutherville.

"Our backgrounds are dissimilar," says Schwartzbaum, 22, a native of Georgia who describes her upbringing as "not quite Atlanta, not quite Appalachia," but "we both seem to look for beauty in worlds that tend to be known as chaotic or violent."

Schwartzbaum, a photographer, and Danilowicz, who works in what he calls "new genres," are two of the nine area artists whose work will animate the small, light-filled gallery in the Greenspring Station shopping center from Sunday through Aug. 28. Some, including sculptor Laura Amussen and lithographer Debra Rubino, will be familiar to locals who frequent director Mary Jo Gordon's 12-year-old space.

But Gordon asked Schwartzbaum and Danilowicz to explore fresh dynamics, and in "countless" late-night slide-viewing sessions, innumerable visits to artists' studios and more heated debates than they care to recount, the co-curators discovered ways in which the work of these printmakers, painters and sculptors seemed to oscillate between the weighty and the airy, the savage and the sophisticated, establishing a conversation between oppositional dynamics.

"The typical way of curating an exhibit is to start out with a title and a theme and work from there," says Schwartzbaum, who minored in exhibition studies at MICA and has used her expertise in work with the Walters Art Museum and the Creative Alliance. "We did it backwards, allowing a theme to emerge as we looked at the works. We think the exhibition refreshes the space a bit, and refreshes the artists' work. It certainly refreshes us."

Designing a show is just as expressive an act as creating art, says Danilowicz, and as the pair combed, for example, what they call "airy and ethereal" lithography from Rubino, they felt equally drawn to the weightier aesthetics of Hayes Bowie, whose sculpture incorporates objects found in scrap yards. Rubino's "archaic" printmaking process, meanwhile, finds its more exploratory counterpoint in Washington-based sculptor Michele Kong's hot-glue creations.

Danilowicz's Flower makes petals of hide-stretching tools, and in her photographic series Monsters Among Us, Schwartzbaum takes a fresh look at a universe she got to know as a teen, the world of drivers on the monster-truck circuit. "Most people think of that world as noisy, heavy and gritty," she says, but her color images limn its surprising beauties.

In their quest to find the new within the familiar, the co-curators have even asked one artist to take them by surprise. Amussen, a sculptor whose work often features natural materials such as bamboo, will show a site-specific work the exhibitors decided to admit sight unseen.

"She knows the space, but we don't know what her contribution will be," said a smiling Danilowicz last weekend. "That's the nature of the art we're after. It can be exciting not to know. I'm sure it will be dynamic."

The opening reception for "Refresh," featuring six of the exhibition's nine artists, will be held at Galerie Francoise et Ses Freres, 2360 W. Joppa Road, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; the public is welcome. Call 410-337-ARTS.

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