This month's find: Art that sings

Collector Bill Anglin's love of music and painting inspired him to purchase works by Morgan Monceaux

April 21, 2007|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun reporter

The paintings began to talk to Bill Anglin, and they wouldn't shut up.

When Anglin first walked into New Door Creative, a gallery in Baltimore's Station North Arts and Entertainment District, he found himself nose to canvas with 19 mixed-media artworks by the visionary painter Morgan Monceaux. The large-scale, vividly colored works take as their subjects the lives of jazz musicians and opera singers, including Ornette Coleman, Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis.

So articulately does Monceaux render the personalities of his subjects that it was almost as though Anglin had walked into a party populated by some of the greatest artists this country has produced. So persuasively does Monceaux communicate his subjects' voices that Anglin could almost feel their breath on his face.

The voices whispered, exclaimed, cajoled. Anglin simply had to have one, even though he'd never bought an original artwork. But, which should he choose?

"I walked in and saw these, and instantly fell in love," Anglin says.

"Something about them just grabbed my attention. When I look at a painting, I hate being told what to think. Monceaux gives me the overall subject, but everything else is up to me to figure out. It's like a jazz improvisation."

Monceaux is a Vietnam veteran and self-taught artist. The former minister-in-training, who was once homeless, now lives in Baltimore. He rose to national prominence in the 1990s after creating a series of works that depicted the first 41 U.S. presidents, from George Washington to George H.W. Bush.

Recently, his multimedia work has focused on two related categories: jazz portraits and jazz abstractions. The former are relatively straightforward studies of musicians and singers, though intentionally painted without three-dimensional perspective. The latter meld shapes, color and such fragmented objects as a purple plastic "5" to produce impressionistic renditions of composers and performers.

Anglin simply had to have one. But, which should he choose?

"I'm going to be living with this artwork for a long time," he says.

The small-business entrepreneur always has known that some day he would invest in original art.

He's 45 years old, single, and is lucky enough to have had professional success. The Washington resident operates two businesses there - a firm that provides computer network consultation for area Fortune 500 companies, and another company that eradicates airborne pathogens for such clients as cruise ships and hospitals.

But Anglin also has loved the arts since childhood. He vividly remembers a family trip to a Washington museum in the 1960s, when he was about 7. On exhibit was Georges Seurat's monumental A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

"When I stood at a distance, it was a wall-sized mural," he says. "But when I walked up close, I saw that it was made of tiny dots. I'd never imagined that someone could do something like that. I was just fascinated."

In his teens, Anglin dabbled with the notion of being an artist himself.

"In college, I took courses in art history and a life drawing class," he says. "The second day we were supposed to draw a nude model. I could barely draw an apple. That's when I knew my future was in computers."

As Anglin built his businesses, he bought his share of toys: fancy cars, large-screen televisions.

But in his spare time, he hung out with artists. He visited museums and galleries. He branched out into music - he's an avid fan of opera and jazz - and began writing fiction in his spare time.

"Recently, my interests have become less ... ," he pauses, searching for the precise word, "angular. I've come to prefer plants over vehicles, beauty over electronics."

But collecting art was a notion that remained in the back of Anglin's mind, until he recently attended a friend's wedding and met Michelle Talibah. They began chatting, and she told Anglin about the art gallery she had founded, New Door Creative. Anglin went by one day a few weeks later to check out her current show. Just like that, he was hooked.

"Michelle understands how to communicate with me," he says.

"I hate it when someone gives me the hard sell. She was nonconfrontational, nonaggressive. She helped me understand the artist, why he chose certain materials, the background of the painting. She used simple words, and didn't try to impress me with complicated terms that would have lost me."

Even after Anglin went home, the artworks kept talking to him. "Come back," they said. "We have more to show you." Before he knew it, he was planning a second visit.

Now, it's decision time.

He paces back and forth in the two-room gallery, standing first in front of one canvas, then another.

"I've narrowed it down to two," he says. "But I'm having difficulty deciding between them."

One work, inspired by composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, is awash with steely grays. At the bottom of the frame is a keyboard, while midway up, a grove of trees is silhouetted against a fleshy, peach and lilac-colored sky.

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