'9/11' exhibit intermingles patriotism and pain

Visual Arts

  • "Jacob's Ladder," a painting by Deborah Addison Coburn, is a moving vision of the tragic aftermath in the “9/11 Commemoration Invitational Exhibition,” now at the Columbia Art Center.
"Jacob's Ladder," a painting by Deborah Addison… (Courtesy of the Columbia…)
September 21, 2011|By Mike Giuliano

The artists in the "9/11 Commemoration Invitational Exhibition" at the Columbia Art Center visually meditate about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Most of them do not directly depict the plane crashes, but patriotic themes do resonate throughout the exhibited artwork.

Also, some of the artists are veterans involved in the American Legion Auxiliary Creative Arts Program. Their accompanying artist statements make connections between their military service in various wars and how this affected their outlook.

Regardless of whether they have civilian or veteran status, the artists in this exhibit obviously bring considerable emotional investment to the painful topic.

Among those directly treating that traumatic event is Deborah Addison Coburn, whose acrylic painting "8:48" is a deliberately spare depiction of the World Trade Center towers shown against a clear blue sky. A black band painted across the top of one tower signifies the impact of the first plane, with drips of black paint dribbling down that tower as a painterly gesture suggesting how its destruction quickly escalated.

Coburn's oil and acrylic "Jacob's Ladder" depicts the immediate aftermath of the destroyed towers. All that remains of the twin towers in this painting are twisted steel beams rising upward in ladder-evocative ways. This painting's predominantly black and gray tones reinforce the apocalyptic mood.

If Coburn powerfully addresses the exhibition topic through schematic paintings in which she pares down the pictorial elements to a minimum, George Sakkal's paper collage-derived print "Descent to Ground Zero" is so densely detailed that the overall impression is of architectural shards and symbolic references piled up at the site.

Although the majority of artists in this exhibit do not overtly reference the locations attacked in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, they have a shared impulse to express the patriotic emotions stirred at the time and now expressed again at 10th anniversary events such as this exhibit.

Ken DaVault's photograph "Final Resting Place" shows a sentry marching in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. It serves as a reminder of military valor in conflicts throughout the nation's history. Similarly, Michael L. Higgs has a photo, "Reflection," showing reflections against the names carved into the walls of the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall.

Higgs also has a painted wood carving, "The American Flag," whose rippling shape makes it seem as if it's proudly flying in the breeze.

The flag occurs in other artwork, too, such as Jonathan West's acrylic painting "Old Glory." West's abstract expressionist treatment of the flag does away with neat definitional lines and instead has loosely energetic stars and stripes.

Although these artists follow individual stylistic approaches to their subject matter, they collectively give a sense of how Americans responded to a shocking event. Their artistic contemplation helps gallery visitors focus their own thoughts about where they were then and where they are now.

"9/11 Commemoration Invitational Exhibition" remains through Oct. 2 at the Columbia Art Center, at 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village in Columbia. Running concurrently is an unrelated exhibit of ceramic sculpture by Christina McCleary. Call 410-730-0075 or go to http://www.ColumbiaArtCenter.org.

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