'All Things Round': AVAM covers fertile ground

Visual Arts

November 23, 2011|By Mike Giuliano

Going around the exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum is a thematically circular exercise. That's because this show is true to its title: "All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs and Karma."

As in most of its previous, long-running, museum-filling exhibits, some of the artworks in the current show closely adhere to the overall theme and others barely relate to it at all. In any event, there are so many neat things on display that your eyes will be wide-open circles as you explore the offerings.

Among the artists working with conventional mediums and formats, Tennessee artist Paul Lancaster exemplifies how painters traditionally have relied upon circular forms in their compositions. His 1987 oil painting "Night Bathers" depicts five female nudes resting beside a natural pool at night.

Not only is the moon an illuminated circle at the top of the composition, but this quasi-surreal scene includes small white orbs sprinkled throughout the vegetation. The resulting landscape has a fairyland quality to it. And, of course, the women themselves have rounded forms that make them seem right at home in this setting.

Lancaster's 1998 oil painting "Madonna and Child" similarly emphasizes rounded forms in everything from Mary's face to the halo behind her. Indeed, the backing vegetation and the landscape itself are made up of curving shapes.

Another artist who seems to be on the same curvy wavelength is Stephanie Lucas. This French artist's 2011 acrylic painting "Mother" is an intricately detailed composition in which numerous figures are surrounded by such lush plant life that they verge on completely merging into it.

Although you'll find some straight lines in this painting, more often you'll encounter organic swirls that symbolically emit natural energy.

Among the exhibit's artists circling around the overall topic in more unconventional ways, one of the most interesting examples is Texas artist Grace Bashara Greene. Her "The Button Lady" (circa 1994) is an actual antique dress form whose feminine shape has been covered with buttons of various sizes and colors. This "button lady" also supports spools of thread. She's basically all circles and cylindrical shapes.

The women in the paintings by Lancaster and Lucas literally are shown in natural states, while this altered dress form speaks to venerable domestic arts. In both cases, rounded forms have emotional associations with female identity.

Just as the world itself is round, this exhibit demonstrates how various cultures around the world share an interest in circular imagery and, arguably, circular thinking. There is, for instance, an exhibited Mayan stone sphere made sometime between 400 and 600 AD. This sphere is related to the cyclical time found in the Mayan calendar.

The exhibit also contains an assortment of mandala-themed artwork by several artists. These works serve as a reminder that the word "mandala" itself is derived from the Sanskrit word for "circle."

On our own continent, the Native American artist Shawn Ware's "Dream Catcher" is a 2001 sculptural assemblage made from a wagon wheel, horseshoes and leather. Painted red, yellow and black, this wall-hanging object is a rawhide web designed to catch one's thoughts.

Also circling around topics with spiritual or, in any case, esoteric associations, an English married couple, Karen and Steve Alexander, have photographs and related texts documenting the mysterious crop circles that suddenly appear in wheat fields.

If your thoughts are being encouraged to make universal linkages between otherwise disparate cultures, you won't be surprised to see that the exhibit includes a book by Carl Jung. It's that kind of show.

"All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs and Karma" remains through Sept. 2, 2012 at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Hwy., at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Call 410-244-1900 or go to http://www.avam.org.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.