Exposing abstract views of life

CRITIC'S CORNER - - art

`Naked' to be featured as part of off-site Artscape show this weekend

Art Column

July 19, 2006|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

As it turns out, the title of the Sub-Basement Artist Studios show, Naked Abstraction, is a lot racier than anything on the gallery walls.

That's not to say there's not plenty of excitement in these finely crafted works.

The show, which is already on view, is an off-site exhibition of Artscape, the city's annual outdoor arts festival that opens Friday, and it includes about two dozen paintings, sculpture and drawings by six area artists.

Many of the works make frank reference to the body and some include human figures to suggest complex psychological narratives abstracted from everyday experience.

Others employ forms that look just enough like things in the real world to suggest recognizable objects, though one can't quite say what they are.

Sculptor Dave Parker's eerie, found-object assemblages, for example, have the futuristic, vaguely ominous aura of space-age apparatus from the sets of sci-fi movies like Star Wars or The Matrix.

Perhaps picking up on the galactic voyager metaphor, Parker calls his pieces "lightships" and assembles them out of an amazing variety of unexpected though, relatively commonplace, components: helicopter parts, fire truck hubcaps, public address system speaker baskets, construction-site halogen lamps and even the detonator pins of high-explosive aerial bombs. (Wonder where he got those?)

One of Parker's most striking pieces is his Lightship #25, a metallic, 4-foot-high sculpture that looks like part of a suit of armor Darth Vader might have worn. The work is a clever confabulation of street light cases, cut acrylic and colored fluorescent, laser and LED lights.

Debra Diamond's large-scale abstract drawings, by contrast, have a distinctly handmade character that includes the paper on which they're painted, which the artist created herself while attending a workshop in France.

Diamond's freely drawn abstractions are wholly non-representational; if anything, they evoke states of being rather than objects. Yet they possess a remarkable clarity and focus that recalls the rigorous economy of means - and the spiritual serenity - of Rothko's painted squares-within-squares.

Steven Pearson, who has the largest number of works in the show, is also an abstract painter, but his method involves a whimsical reiteration of familiar figurative forms until their original character is no longer recognizable.

In these colorful, carefully ordered canvases, one senses a world of identifiable shapes that seems to lie just beyond the ken of normal perception but that nonetheless remains vitally alive and cogent.

Overall, many of the pieces here suggest the influence of Baltimore's celebrated master, painter Grace Hartigan, who has made a career of artfully commingling abstract and figurative elements in her work.

Abstraction was once the hallmark of the 20th-century modernist avant-garde, and it was notorious for its power to startle, outrage and mystify the public.

Today it has evolved into just another contemporary art style, no longer fraught with the burden of fulfilling some urgent historical necessity or the ideologies of progress invented by critics.

The show at Sub-Basement suggests that the abstract approach to art-making has long since devolved into something like the untroubled innocence of the biblical Garden of Eden, where Adam and his mate happily enjoyed the privilege of naming everything in Creation even as they remained naked and unashamed.

Naked Abstraction also includes works by Alzaruba, Seth Goodman and Bill Schmidt and runs through Aug. 26 at Sub-Basement Artist Studios, 118 N. Howard St. Call 410-659-6950.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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