Schooled in Old Masters' techniques

Paintings in exhibit are link to the past, figuratively speaking

Art Review

April 13, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

In the 1950s, Clement Greenberg, one of modernism's most persuasive champions, declared figurative art all but dead as an expression of contemporary life; Greenberg thought the best art of his time invariably was abstract.

Yet even as abstraction became widely practiced among artists nationally, a contrarian group of Maryland painters and sculptors stubbornly resisted the trend. Many of them had trained at the Maryland Institute College of Art under Jacques Maroger (1884-1962), a French-born painter and art conservator whose research at the Louvre in the 1920s led him to rediscover the lost techniques of the 17th-century Old Masters.

At a time when many schools were abandoning courses in life drawing and anatomy, Maroger insisted his students master the techniques of the classical tradition, with its emphasis on realistic depiction and the human figure. Among Maroger's most gifted students was a young man from Owings Mills named Joseph Sheppard, a prodigious draftsman and painter who would later return to MICA as a teacher to carry on Maroger's work.

Now the artistic descendants of Maroger and Sheppard are the subject of a fascinating exhibition at the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi. Legacy: A Tradition Lives On traces the two masters' influence on the work of 11 contemporary artists who continue to work against the grain in the classical-realist style.

Sculptor Nina Akamu, for example, has created monumental equestrian statues in bronze inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's uncompleted plans for his Sforza Monument in Milan.

Daniel Graves, Douglas Hofmann and Evan Wilson all create intensely realistic paintings - still lifes, portraits and genre paintings with a contemporary sensibility. And Michael Molnar's eye-popping trompe l'oeil oil paintings fool the eye so successfully it takes a minute to recognize them as clever illusions.

Today's contemporary realists are actually the fourth generation of artists who can trace their stylistic heritage through Sheppard back to Maroger and from Maroger to his teacher, Louis Anquetin (1861-1932). Anquetin had studied under the academic painter Fernand Cormon in the mid-1880s. His fellow students included Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh; Anquetin's work would later strongly influence Gauguin and Picasso.

The UMUC show includes a number of regional artists who deserve to be known much better than they are. One is James Earl Reid, whose Third World America: A Contemporary Nativity, a life-size sculpture commissioned by the Community for Creative Non-violence in Washington, is a powerful depiction of the Christian Holy Family as a contemporary homeless couple and their child.

Painter David Zuccarini is a Baltimore native whose realistic portraits and still lifes are inspired by his immediate surroundings.

"My art has always been autobiographical, a mirror for personal beliefs and relationships," Zuccarini has stated. "Making art is like the enactment of a ritual: self-instructive, pointing toward mysteries that sometimes cannot be fully expressed in words or images."

The show also includes stellar works by Nilda Maria Comas, Daniel Graves, Malcolm Harlow, Robert Seyffert and Mark Tennant, as well as magical paintings by Sheppard and Maroger themselves.

Legacy: A Tradition Lives On

When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, through July 8

Where: Arts Program Gallery of the Inn and Conference Center, University of Maryland University College, 3501 University Blvd. East, Adelphi

Admission: Free

Call: 301-985-7937

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