Painters traditionally have placed human figures within realistic landscapes that seem like psychologically suitable backdrops, but the group exhibit "The Body and Beyond" is notable for how many of its artists have figures and abstracted landscapes melting into each other.
That's one of the reasons why you may find yourself lingering before some of the paintings in this exhibit of contemporary Chinese art in Howard Community College's Rouse Company Foundation Gallery.
Upon walking into the gallery, you're immediately facing such paintings. Qin Ming's acrylic paintings "Nude 2012 #1" and "Nude 2012 #2" depict single female nudes standing in compositions that otherwise consist only of broadly brushed grayish backgrounds.
Strictly speaking, there is not a background in the conventional sense in these two paintings by Qin Ming. The gray brush strokes densely swirl around and sometimes over the human figures.
Although the flesh tones and additional bits of purple and pink paint establish that these are, indeed, women being depicted, the viewer is left with the destabilizing uncertainty as to whether the women are emerging from that all-over gray background or sinking into it.
Two oil paintings by Hu Jundi, "Seduction 4" and "Seduction 5," have a similar effect. These paintings depict embracing figures that are relatively indistinct within a setting that consists of melting browns and yellows. What sets this artist apart from Qin Ming is that Hu Jundi has enough realistic detail in the faces to give a sense of individual identity.
There's also a balancing act between clarity and obscurity in some of the other exhibited artists. Wang Xiaolu's oil painting "Nude #1" has a standing female nude whose body mostly melts into the surrounding shades of brown, but her white legs and red shoes literally stand out in the composition.
In Liao Zhenwu's acrylic painting "The Myth #1," an upturned, grayish white face dominates an otherwise abstract composition that consists of vigorously applied gray brush strokes that collectively form some sort of cosmic soup.
Although Li Zi's oil painting "The Moon Night" presents a crisply defined, angular human head in a nocturnal setting, this person also seems to be merging into a gray, black and milky white background. And in Liu Xintao's oil painting "Empty Room," the relatively small realistic depiction of a couple embracing in a bedroom is surrounded by drips of black and gray paint abstractly running down the white canvas.
Other approaches to figuration also are explored in this show. Zhu Yiyong's three oil paintings in a "Black White Diary" series share a similarly murky dark palette as some of the above-mentioned artists, but a crucial distinction is that this artist is classically representational in depicting nude or nearly nude women. That doesn't mean we get to know the figures any better in terms of individual personalities, however, because all three figures are posed in such a way that we only see their backs.
An irony percolating throughout this exhibit is that nude figures tend to be seen in a partial or otherwise obscured manner. Gao Xiaohua has three oil paintings in a "Nude" series in which the artist is realistically precise in depicting female nudes and, moreover, has them wearing assertively patterned robes and standing on vividly colorful oriental carpets.
You see them up close and in sharp detail, but you're still denied vital personal information owing to the fact that these sharply cropped compositions are cropped at the neck. You see the light glistening on their flesh, but don't get the whole figure or any corresponding sense of personality.
This psychologically detached observation perhaps reflects the influence of the American painter Philip Pearlstein.
If most of the artists are keenly interested in exploring the pictorial relationship between figures and the landscape or other backdrops, Xu Ze has three oil paintings in a"Homeland"series that primarily concern the interplay between traditionally stylized mountainous landscapes painted in shades of gray and black in the foreground and modern cities seen in miniature way off in the distance.
Traditional Chinese painting also is overtly evoked by Qiu Guangping's charcoal and pastel on paper "Nirvana Rebirth," which is a very long scroll installed along much of one wall.
From a distance, its austere black-and-white appearance more or less makes it seem like a bumpy landscape. Get closer and you immediately realize that this "landscape" is comprised of vultures packed so tightly together on the ground that the poor horse standing at the center doesn't seem to stand a chance.
"The Body and Beyond" runs through April 29 at Howard Community College's Rouse Company Foundation Gallery, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Running concurrently in HCC's Art Department Gallery is an exhibit of ceramic sculptures, "Safari in Clay," by Trinka Roeckein. Call 443-518-4189 or go to http://www.howardcc.edu.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun