'The Dance in Yellow'

"The Dance in Yellow," by Trudy Babchak. (Submitted photo / February 20, 2013)

Dancing figures are the center of attention in many of the paintings in Trudy Babchak's exhibit "Motion/Emotion" at Howard Community College. Indeed, there's really nothing else in the paintings to draw your attention away from these moving female dancers.

You sense this painter's approach to figuration as soon as you walk into the show.

"The Dance" has a figure in a flowing dress who's essentially caught in motion. You can't really say anything about her personality, because this tightly cropped image only shows her face from about the nose down; and you don't see the full extent of her outstretched arms. What you're left with is an animated torso that's stretching and twisting into abstracted space.

Hanging next to "The Dance" is a very similar composition, "The Dance in Yellow." Although such paintings keep the focus on a single dancer, it's not just more of the same in a creative regard. That's because the artist has variations in the assertive colors used for the clothing and background.

Also, such close-up views of individual dancers aren't the only way Babchak explores this figurative theme. She also has paintings in which small and schematic representations of women turn dance into a group activity.

In "Celebration in Spring," seven women are shown doing a circular dance. And there are many pink-hued female nudes lined up and linking their arms together in "Chorus Line."

Whether keeping her focus on a single dancer or multiple dancers, the artist constantly considers whether they should stand out against an all-over abstract painterly background or instead melt into it. A striking example of the latter approach is "Red Celebration," in which a single woman wearing a pink dress seems like she is melting into the red background.

Another sort of variation is involved in several collaborative paintings such as "Party Girl" and "Body Suit." Babchak presents head-to-toe depictions of single female subjects here, perhaps to facilitate the contributions of the second artist, Liz Henzey, whose marbled paper is applied to the figures in order to suggest everything from skin tone to dress pattern.

All of the above-mentioned figurative paintings have a deliberately generic quality. These are archetypal women whose extended limbs explore the space around them.

Yet another, er, body of work in the exhibit involves paintings by Babchak in which individualized figures wear old-fashioned clothing and have distinctive physical features. These portrait subjects seem as if they are derived from actual relatives in a family photo album.

The two partly obscured figures in "I Remember" are represented with such thick and crusty strokes of white paint that it's as if the artist is trying to excavate them from her memory.

Such personal connections are even more overtly acknowledged in paintings including "Mother as Child" and "Mother's Brother as Child." Already fixed in memory, these relatives are now fixed in paint.

"Motion/Emotion: Paintings by Trudy Babchak" runs through March 17 in the Rouse Co. Foundation Gallery, at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy., in Columbia. Running concurrently in the Art Department Gallery is "Overture: New Ceramics by Janice Chassier, Sara Knox, Meg Lau, Emily Perlet, Angela Suehr and Deirdre Tighe." Go to http://www.howardcc.edu.