By Mike Giuliano
10:40 AM EST, January 17, 2014
The four artists in "Cross-Continental Connection" are from different countries, but their shared interest in abstraction can be seen in this exhibit at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House in Columbia.
These artists have distinctive ways of dealing with abstraction in their work. That's why the overall mood of the show is that there are as many differences as similarities between them.
Francisca Alika, who comes from Nigeria, does acrylic paintings in which direct representation plays a role. In "Between Realms," for instance, there is a human face at the center of the painting. That face, however, is not depicted in great detail and hence you get only a general sense of individual personality.
There is a sun-evocative orange-red orb at the upper left corner of "Between Realms," and the lower right portion of the painting has darker abstract zones of blue and purple paint. As the painting's title indicates, the depicted person does seem to be situated between two realms.
Alika has other paintings, including "Shattered" and "The Effect," that also have faces at the centers of the compositions. The abstracted backgrounds are painted in such dark colors that the faces seem like they're floating in some dream dimension.
Much lighter in nature are the acrylic paintings by Federico Ruiz, who comes from the Dominican Republic. If you find yourself thinking about a sunny day in the Caribbean, that's the artist's intention.
Although Ruiz's "Taino Beach" is a completely abstract painting, its horizontal bands of color evoke a sandy paradise. A white band at the bottom represents the beach, a deep blue band in the middle represents the ocean, and a paler blue band at the top is the sky. A second painting also titled "Taino Beach" adjusts the relative widths of these painterly bands, demonstrating how abstract artists often work variations within a set format.
The late Jerzy Kajetanski, who was from Poland, explored geometric abstraction in an exhibited series of oil paintings from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In "Euclid," blue-edged triangular forms seemingly float against an abstracted background; and in "Dynamic Expression," red lines slash their way across the darker hued background.
Ellen Baer, who comes from Buffalo, N.Y., has oil and wax paintings that are influenced by Abstract Expressionism. In "Efflorescence," the irregularly shaped areas of red, blue, yellow, brown and purple seem like they are bumping into each other. The wax mixed in with the paint has the effect of softening the overall imagery, though, so it's as if the shapes and colors are running up against each other in a gentle manner.
Baer's "Mare Liberum" achieves a similar effect. Even an assertive red zone does not seem too loud. What's especially striking in this painting is a zone of black that's so thick it resembles a tar pool. You wouldn't want to swim in it, but you won't mind looking at it from a slight distance.
A second exhibit at the Kish Gallery, "Transitions," is a solo show in which Raquel Arias has works in embossed metal. Although the gallery's two exhibits otherwise have nothing in common, it's worth noting that Arias comes from yet another country. Arias is from El Salvador and has lived in the United States since 2007.
Arias explains in an accompanying artist statement that she began working with embossed metal in her native country, and, indeed, that some of the metal used in the exhibited art comes from there.
Her artwork features flat metal plates whose strategically raised surfaces become pictures that immediately register with the viewer. In "Bottles," for instance, the embossed metal imagery is a sharp and spare presentation of two bottles and a wine glass.
And every local viewer will recognize how the raised metal surface in "Ravens" presents the football team's logo. Perhaps it's just post-season grumbling on the part of this particular viewer, but the artist's depiction of the raven looks more aggressive than the team did on the field this past season.
Arias often features natural imagery in her embossed metalwork, including leaves, flowers, trees and butterflies. She also likes to paint the metal flower petals such cheerful colors as red and yellow.
And actual slices of nature are incorporated in "Tree," in which thin slices of cork have been applied to the metal surface.
If metal inherently seems like an emotionally cold material with which to work, Arias demonstrates it can be used in lighter and warmer ways.
"Cross-Continental Connection" and "Transitions" run through Feb. 15 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987 or go to http://www.wildelake.org.
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