Saying their piece about fighters, war

Artists' expressions of conflict aren't presented in the exhibit as black or white

Art Column

July 25, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

A thoughtful exhibition at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland - Visions of Conflict: Rendering Dissent - shrewdly questions America's use of military power to resolve international disputes, but some artists more than others take full advantage of the fertile topic's charged relevance.

The show's centerpiece is a huge, oil-on-canvas triptych by painter Leslie Smith III that mockingly rebukes President Bush, his father, former President George H.W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell for their roles in embroiling America in the Iraq debacle.

Titled Red, White and Blue, the painting's three large panels, each of which takes a different color as its motif, constitute a poignant political allegory of the misuse of military power.

But unlike conventional political propaganda, with its predictable moral categories of white hats and black hats, Smith's cryptic imagery suggests a more nuanced range of possible interpretations, from misguided idealism to malicious deception to outright folly.

Other artists in the show seemed less focused on the immediate situation in Iraq than on the more generalized tragedy that armed conflict has represented since time immemorial.

These Colors Don't Run, Michael Sandstrom's acrylic and resin assemblage of toy soldiers and weapons, for example, honors the sacrifice of the ordinary soldiers charged with carrying out their country's policies, which they have absolutely no voice in formulating.

When the bullets start flying, their courage and sense of honor are what keep them going in the face of horrendous violence and brutality. The piece affirms the basic humanity and decency of men and women caught up in the maelstrom of war who are simply trying to do their best.

The show also includes Lillian Bayley's oversize tributes to images of war by Goya and Durer, Deirtra Thompson's digital illustrations and a touching assemblage of newspaper clippings and Iraq war memorabilia by Scrapworm, also known as the installation artist Courtney Wrenn.

Visions of Conflict runs through Aug. 4 in the Gormley Gallery at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 4701 N. Charles St. Call 410-435-0100 or go to ndm.edu.

Intriguing MICA show

Lauren Cook's mural-scale design for a Hellenistic mosaic is among the most intriguing works at this year's Maryland Institute College of Art graduate student exhibitions. The colorful work depicts the Greek deities Zeus and Demeter and the Madonna of the Prairie, a mythic figure identified with the American West.

The holy personages and the primeval landscape they inhabit are all painted in an elegant Italian High Renaissance style that obviously owes a debt to Titian. But there's nothing forced or campy about the image, which seems as though it might have just come off the wall of some Florentine palazzo.

Cook, who teaches at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, will install the mosaic based on the design outside of the residence hall of a center for art teachers in Greece; fragments of the full-size mosaic, which is twice the size of the painting and made of Carrera marble as intricately rendered as any Greco-Roman original, are on display alongside Cook's maquette.

All the works are by students in MICA's Masters in Art Education program, which draws primary and secondary schoolteachers from across the country. The program, which runs for 12 weeks over the course of two summers, gives teachers an opportunity to refine their skills in the studio and research subjects that will aid them in the classroom.

The show also presents Jessica Distad's charming comic-book illustrations on the subjects of love and marriage, Rebecca Levine's contemporary genre scenes of adolescent girlhood and Lauren Selig's watercolor drawings of suburban domestic life, which are just quotidian enough in the details to suggest why someone who survived the experience might have chosen a life in art.

The show, which runs through Friday at MICA's Bunting Center, 1401 Mount Royal Ave., also includes works by James Hesser, Vanessa Lopez, Anne Gorton, Jesse Wyss, Derrick Freeman and Jennifer Sonkin. Call 410-225-2300 or visit mica.edu.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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