Lees paints figures with confidence



Sometimes the best art isn't in the art gallery at all. That, at least, seems to be the case this month at Maryland Art Place, where Cathy Lees' tough-minded domestic realist paintings are on display in the hallway outside the gallery, which often serves as an extension of MAP's white-cube formal interior.

Lees paints vivid autobiographical vignettes depicting herself and members of her family at home, where they are seen acting out various scenarios of domestic alienation, ennui, power and aggression.

Each scenario employs a sophisticated, multipoint perspective that mimics the spatial expansiveness of a camera's wide-angle lens. Lees is a superb draftsman and her meticulously rendered mise-en-scenes possess a preternatural optical clarity.

In some of the scenes, Lees appears with her sister, Eleanor, trimming each other's hair or cutting out strings of paper dolls with scissors. In others, the artist appears alone, often wielding scissors, knives and other sharp objects.

In one painting, for example, she sits on the tiled floor of a tidy room slicing apples under the gaze of a male figure half-reflected in the window behind her. The apples spill haphazardly over the polished floor; the blade in her hand points directly at us.

It's hard not to see her as a kind of rowhouse Eve, though nothing in the picture refers directly to the biblical narrative -- there's no serpent, no tree, no nudity and no real sense of recently lost innocence either, which perhaps is the point of the image.

The paintings have a surreal, dreamlike quality, as if the figures were characters in a fable, except that they and the settings in which they appear -- a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom -- are so sharply observed they possess an undeniable, if quotidian, authenticity.

Thirty years ago, work like this would almost automatically have been pigeon-holed as a feminist response to the painfully constricted roles to which women once were confined. Today, the situation is a little more ambiguous; here the sense of protest, if protest it is, seems aimed at a more generalized tragic human condition.

I found myself empathizing easily with the vulnerability and fragility of the young woman Lees portrays as herself but also a little at a loss to interpret the complex psychological states represented in her paintings, which seem to combine wistful adolescent longing, impatience, irritability and rebellion in equal measure.

The fact that someone so young -- Lees is a 2005 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art -- can convey all these emotions with such painterly assurance is itself an achievement, however, and leaves one looking forward to evolutions of this intriguing artist's work.

The show runs through Jan. 3. The gallery is at 8 Market Place, Suite 100. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Call 410-962-8565.

Prints at Resurgam

Suzan Rouse's experimental prints, on view at the Resurgam Gallery, have a childlike innocence that (only) partially masks the sophisticated technique with which they are made.

About half the prints in the show are pulled from a single etching plate, which Rouse prints in different inks overlaid with painted Chine-colle cutouts.

Rouse's imagery -- animals, circles, flowers and other unpretentious forms -- is inspired by the artist's experiences of love and romance, though the narratives they relate are rendered mostly opaque by the artist's determinedly abstract style. What's left is a bittersweet suggestion of love's deep mystery as well as its transience.

The show runs through Dec. 24. The gallery is at 910 S. Charles St. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment. Call 410-962-0513.

Shows at Colonnade

James Bobick's technically impeccable geometric abstractions on display at John Yuhanick Associates in the Colonnade look like Piet Mondrian, Peter Halley and Sean Scully all rolled into one.

That, of course, is a problem, because while imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery, a mix-and-match approach to style rarely leads to truly original results.

What Bobick has going for him is youth and plenty of enthusiasm, plus a heart-on-sleeve sincerity that gives his art an irresistible decorative charm despite its skirting of weightier issues. For a first outing, perhaps that's accomplishment enough to hearten the artist for the hard work ahead.

Also in the Colonnade, lithographs by master Ab-Exer Ellsworth Kelly are on view at the Thomas Segal Gallery. Kelly's assured renderings of fruits, leaves, flowers and birds are in their own way almost as startling as the large "all-over" paintings with which he burst onto the art world scene in the 1950s.

Yuhanick Associates Inc., a public relations and marketing firm, is at 4 W. University Parkway. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 410-338-0700. The Segal Gallery is in the business center of the same building. Hours are by appointment. Call 410-235-1500.


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