The two-artist exhibit of watercolors at Slayton House Gallery takes advantage of that medium's colorful and casual qualities. These are artistically well-planned compositions, though they seem pretty easygoing in nature.
Lynn Ferris has a certain amount of rigor in composing her portraits, for instance, but her subjects don't seem like they've been holding static poses for hours. Even when her approach includes diamond-gridded and other formally precise abstract backgrounds, the human figures in the foreground don't just seem like pieces set against a game board.
In the literal-minded "The Next Move," a red-and-black game board design is the backdrop for a tightly cropped figure whose hand-to-chin pose lets you know he is contemplating his next move. That air of contemplation is a trait found throughout Ferris' watercolors.
If the man in "The Next Move" is quietly planning his next move, the two elderly people in "Waiting" are seated on a bench as if awaiting a bus. The abstracted purplish background in this watercolor actually is found more often in the artist's work than the game board design in a work such as "The Next Move."
Whether utilizing geometric abstraction or looser zones of color, the end result is to make the realistically rendered figures in the foreground stand out against an abstracted backdrop.
You wind up meeting quite a few people in these watercolors.
"William" is an elderly man whose seated position and clasped hands make it seem as if he is psychologically pulled into himself.
"Joe" is huddled with a cigarette and presumably a mug of coffee while reading a newspaper. He is another isolated figure absorbed in his own thoughts.
Psychologically opening up a bit more are subjects including "Big Smile," in which a woman's toothy smile makes her seem very glad to be meeting you.
Besides the single figures, there are more socially expansive subjects that include "Laundry Day," in which a woman and child hang laundry on the line; "Dinner for Two," in which a cane-assisted senior citizen walks a dog; and "Long Drink of Water," in which a trainer oversees a horse drinking from a bucket.
Nowhere is the diversity of portraiture more striking than in an installational side-by-side that features "Miss Gwendolyn," a prim and proper older woman whose pink and black dress, black necklace, festive umbrella and straw hat make her seem like quite a lady; and "Pink," in which a young woman garbed in a punk culture-celebrating pink, black and white outfit seems inspired byLady Gaga.
Ferris' 15 watercolors have plenty of breathing room around them in the gallery installation, but the second artist, Beatrice Hardy, has 31 pieces hanging together rather snugly in a smaller adjacent room.
Many of these watercolors depict floral still-lifes and other subjects found in nature, so the overall effect, fortunately, tends to be one of natural abundance. Just the same, the installation seems crowded in spots.
Among the flowers, "Zinnia" is a good example of how the artist calls your attention to just a couple of red zinnia blossoms in a tightly cropped composition. Other floral subjects include "Cactus Flowers," in which the red blooms are dramatically set against a profusion of spike-defended flat green leaves.
Hardy likes to get up close to her subjects, whether floral or otherwise. "Juicy Slices" depicts two wedges of watermelon set against melting abstract shades of pink, yellow and blue in the background.
"Jar Symphony" isolates a closely spaced array of variously colored and lit glass jars; and a lineup of a different sort can be studied in "Teatime," with its variously sized and colored boxes and tins of tea.
Hardy's eclectic topics also encompass a "Parasail," sporting a colorful design on its parachute cloth surface; two people shopping in "What's in Store — Ellicott City"; a single chair in "Queen Anne;" and a sci-fi vision of multiple celestial spheres in the abstracted "Astral Sunset."
Beatrice Hardy and Lynn Ferris exhibit through July 9 at Slayton House Gallery, at 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Green, in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987.