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Visual arts

Birds of a feather flock together at Columbia Artists' Gallery

By Mike Giuliano

8:00 AM EST, November 12, 2012

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The delicate nature of Oriental brush painting makes for a subtle exhibit by Jing-Jy Chen at the Artists' Gallery. The Laurel artist deploys watercolor and ink to create images of natural life that quietly claim your attention.

It's easy to appreciate how these mediums technically play to advantage. The three paintings in a "Cranes and Pines" series, for instance, make astute use of thin black lines of ink to define both the lanky birds' legs and also the numerous pine needles in the background trees. Watercolor is a suitable medium for presenting the birds' fluffy white bodies, which support black-feathered wings.

The combination of watercolor and ink also works well in "Koi Pond," in which the body of one fish is defined by a burst of red and a second fish by a burst of yellow; sparely dispensed black lines give a sense of the pond in which they swim.

This artistic method typically relies on a selective use of color and line.

Three paintings of cats include "Quiet Afternoon," in which concentrations of black define the bodies of two cats. One of the cats is sleeping, which means it's basically just a fur ball, while the second cat's wide-open blue eyes and alert stance make it seem like it's ready to pounce. The composition otherwise is an expanse of blank whiteness, ensuring that your own eyes remain on the dark-hued cats.

Of particular seasonal relevance are several works in an "Autumn Leaves" series presenting rust-brown leaves set against neutral white backgrounds. Each painting in this series concerns a specific type of leaf, maple and ginkgo among them, so that you focus on their distinctive shapes.

These are realistic studies of leaf types in which there are relatively crisp definitional lines, but hanging nearby is a work that takes advantage of the ability of watercolor to blur and flow. "Autumn Red" is a concentration of splashed red evoking what it's like to look at a tree that has kept its colorful leaves intact on its branches. There's a more clearly defined detail amidst this wash of color, namely, a pair of small birds perched on a branch.

A thematic concern running through this exhibit is that wildlife has a way of adjusting to seasonal changes. Two paintings in a "Winter Berries" series incorporate hardy birds perched on snow-covered branches. The combination of snow-blanketed bushes and a monochromatic gray background might lead one to expect that these humble little birds are surviving in dull surroundings, but the bushes' red berries are like festive punctuation marks.

Hanging nearby are a couple paintings in a "Pheasants" series. Resting on the snowy ground, these birds are sporting enough cheerful colors in their feathers to make them seem like the stars of a winter fashion show.

Jing-Jy Chen exhibits through Nov. 30 at Artists' Gallery, in the American City Building, at 10227 Wincopin Circle, in Columbia. Call 410-740-8249 or go to http://www.artistsgallerycolumbia.com.