Rich color, numerology infuse her art

CRITIC'S CORNER

September 28, 2005|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

Joyce Wellman's recent, color-saturated abstract paintings at New Door Creative Gallery on Howard Street combine motifs of maps, architectural plans and aerial photographs as well as cryptic inscriptions and numerological symbols that suggest spiritual rites of passage.

The Washington-area artist grew up during the 1950s in New York, where her earliest memories include her mother's devotion to the local numbers game -- the informal neighborhood lotteries that promise instant riches for a nickel or dime wager to people with few other prospects for advancement.

For such people the numbers offered what could seem the only ray of hope in otherwise bleak circumstances.

What impressed Wellman as a youngster was the fervent belief on the part of many of her neighbors that the astronomical odds against winning could be beaten (or at least lowered significantly) by paying close attention to random sequences of digits encountered in daily life -- phone numbers, birthdays, license plates, the due dates on electricity bills and the like.

In retrospect, Wellman came to understand that the association of such chance occurrences with what the poet Langston Hughes called the "dream deferred" of true economic security was actually a form of magical thinking born of long-standing privation.

Wellman's abstractions allude to this magical character of numbers, but the rewards she posits are spiritual rather than economic.

Her paintings, with their vivid colors and often pronounced geometric patterns, are like colorful mandalas, the Hindu and Buddhist graphic symbols of the universe used by acolytes as aids to meditation. Her pieces suggest the existence of higher states of well-being that are completely independent of worldly wealth or material gain.

The show, curated by gallery owner Michelle Talibah, also presents a selection of Wellman's paintings and prints from the 1970s through the '90s, turning this superb exhibit into an intriguing mini-retrospective as well as a sensitive presentation of her latest creations.

Passages runs through Oct. 15. The gallery is at 859 N. Howard St. on Baltimore's Antique Row. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and by appointment. Call 410-225-9333.

Grotesqueries

Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by the grotesque, which he believed offered the artist an especially powerful tool for exploring the extremes of human emotion and physical endurance.

Danny Bennett, whose paintings of modern-day grotesques are on view at Gallery ID8 in Fells Point through the end of the month, has taken his cue from the master. His figures are bloated, unsightly little creatures clad in various archaic-looking costumes.

Alas, here the extremes of human expression don't go much farther than an unheroic, superannuated slothfulness rather than to the limits of passion.

The gallery plans a follow-up exhibition of more of Bennett's work next month. One hopes that it will offer a more varied fare than does the present show.

The gallery is at 2007 Fleet St. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Call 410-276-8190.

Little packages

Joel Persels' fine series of diminutive portrait drawings are the highlight of the modest group show at Gallery International.

Persels has an elegant style and a nuanced appreciation of his sitters' personalities that preserve each one's individuality despite his use of a standardized format. These drawings display a vitality and technical ease that almost makes one regret the by now virtually complete takeover of portraiture by the camera's unblinking eye.

The show runs through Oct. 25. The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday Call 410-230-0561.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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