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'Local Color' invites us to share in a new exploration

The fourth annual juried show at the Artists' Gallery in Columbia, "Local Color," includes artists who aren't shy about using color for expressive purposes. In most cases, their dedication to realistic depictions is tempered by their individual emotional responses.

The first place winner, for instance, Joyce Lister, has a pastel titled "Skylight" that calls your attention to how pale purple light falls across the front porch of an old house. You obviously don't know the story of this house and its unseen inhabitants, but you're put into a contemplative mood.

Purple is also on the mind of Mario Toscano, whose oil painting "Main Street" depicts that downtown-defining Ellicott City street with vivid purple hues. It's presumably his response to how the light looked at a particular time of day, but it's so extreme that the painting is lifted out of the realm of standard realism. On the other hand, perhaps there was an asphalt-altering Baltimore Ravens celebration that I missed.

Assertive color also characterizes Robert LeMar's oil painting "Wing Chair." This domestic interior has an orange chair you can't miss, but it competes for your attention with the red sofa next to it.

LeMar likes to have crisply defined objects in his paintings, as can be seen in his "Lantern in Early Spring." Although the coloration is subdued, the Japanese lantern has a firm presence. LeMar won second prize for this painting of a lantern.

For melting colors, have a look at Diane Shipley's watercolor "Aspen Glow." These mountain-hugging trees are defined by an early autumn-suitable gold that seems especially soft owing to the nature of the watercolor medium. The coloration is so pronounced that the whole landscape is subject to a blurry atmospheric treatment.

Although the exhibition title will have you inclined to look for color everywhere, this compact show actually includes its share of works that have other things in mind. There are figurative works, for example, that really just want to quietly focus on the human form.

Stephanie Lyon's watercolor "Sunday Morning — Belfast, Maine" depicts a man and his dog as seen from behind. If it's true that pet owners and their pets eventually look alike, this solidly built duo fits the bill. There isn't much detail in this picture, so your own gentle thoughts about pet ownership are free to roam.

Cathy Z. Sawdey explores various figurative possibilities in her pastel stick "Woman Turning on Stool." The schematically outlined model turns this way and that, with each pose permanently captured via the artist's spare yet firm lines.

Most artists test out the figurative options in preparatory sketches and then give you a single fixed image, but Sawdey lets you in on her decision-making process. The exploratory nature of this work invites you to share in the exploration.

"Local Color" runs through Aug. 26 at the Artists' Gallery, in the American City Building at 10227 Wincopin Circle, in Columbia. Call 410-740-8249 or go to http://www.artistsgallerycolumbia.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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