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Jim Condron, Trace Miller Impress At Segal Gallery

August 27, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

The walls of the up-market, by-appointment-only Thomas Segal Gallery are usually filled with the work of what director Jennifer Strasbaugh calls "blue chip artists" - the likes of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Elsworth Kelly. Not to mention Wolf Kahn, whose distinctively colored oils and pastels the gallery has featured extensively for more than 30 years.

Kahn is well represented in the latest Segal show, "Landscapes and Exteriors," but he's sharing space this time, in something of a departure for the gallery, which has been in Baltimore for 13 years after two decades in Boston. Alongside the Kahn items are pieces by Jim Condron and Trace Miller, two Baltimore artists who caught the eye of gallery management.

"We haven't shown many local artists," Strasbaugh says. "It's not that we're changing, just trying to be flexible."

The show, which also includes finely detailed items by Maryland-born, Maine-based landscape artist David Campbell, was launched a few weeks ago ("The opening was packed - we must have had 200 people there," Strasbaugh says) and runs through Sept. 15.

The work of Condron and Miller, priced from $800 to $14,000, commands attention, even in the company of Kahn's elegant, atmospheric creations.

"To us the show is a big deal, and it's great to be next to Wolf Kahn," says Condron. "Nobody was sure how our work was going to relate [to Kahn's]. The question was, is it going to hold up or be crushed? I think it holds up OK. I think we delivered."

That they did.

Consider Condron's "Monumental Birches," a massive oil on four wall-filling canvasses. The painting uses large dabs of vivid color to create a kind of energy field that transforms the literal elements on the canvas into something richer, weightier and very much alive.

Miller's "The Empress," a striking mixed media collage incorporating bits of mat board, coincidentally complements Condron's birches - a central V-shape suggests a leafless tree in the center of a dynamic abstract.

"Trees are fascinating," Miller says. "They have architecture and structure. 'Empress' is the third collage I have done; each one gets a little more involved. Map board I cut up, save pieces; not manipulated mixed media; I love doing them. They're real time-consuming."

Similar tree imagery also animates Miller's "Particle Accelerator," a large oil that compellingly fuses images of landscape and industrialization.

"I never looked at myself as a landscape painter. I don't work from life," says Miller, a native of Pennsylvania who has taught at Towson University for 12 years. His works in the Segal exhibit incorporate "the bare winter tree as a narrative. I started using it a few years ago after losing my father and brother within weeks of each other. It started as a metaphor for what appears to be lifeless, but can sprout new life."

This may explain the feeling that so much is at play on and beneath the surface of Miller's work.

There is much going on, too, in Condron's multiple variations on images of birches and atlas cedars, each with its own keen sense of light.

"They're a little bit different from traditional landscapes," says Condron, who teaches at Towson and Stevenson University. "I have real trouble categorizing my own work. It's hard to place a label on myself. I'm going for giving people experiences. The challenge is to get the viewer to enter the picture. I want people to enter the space."

That's easy to do in the case of "Monumental Birches." At 96 by 132 inches it's the biggest of Condron's series devoted to this particular tree type. The vitality from the bold streaks of paint and the rich maze of branches beckons to a neoimpressionist world ripe with possibility.

"It is so much fun to paint large," Condron says. "And it's one way to get recognized. I was trained in what they call heroic scale. When the recession came in, it provided a nice excuse to paint smaller."

At any size, Condron's vibrant paintings at the Segal Gallery command attention. Same for Miller's imaginative use of material and form. It's a handsome show.

If you go

"Landscapes and Exteriors" continues through Sept. 15 at the Thomas Segal Gallery, 4 W. University Parkway. By appointment only. Call 410-235-1500 or go to thomassegalgallery.com.

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