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Visual art

Jeans make a fashion statement at HCC exhibit

By Mike Giuliano

11:09 AM EDT, April 19, 2013

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If there were a dress code for visitors to the current exhibit in Howard Community College's Rouse Company Foundation Gallery, it would stipulate that people must wear blue jeans when going to see Julie van Hemert's "Peopled Jeans." That's because the artist uses blue jean material for her wall-hanging fabric art.

Van Hemert does not significantly alter or transform this material. Instead, she typically clusters a few pants legs together in order to suggest that several close friends are, er, hanging out together. Bits of white cloth are placed atop the pants legs to suggest human heads, but otherwise it's the blue jean material itself that prompts you to see people here.

The artist explores various stylistic and sociological variations in these human gatherings. In "Having Your Back Jeans," for instance, four women are seen from the back. The assorted shades of blue deployed for each woman amounts to giving her a distinct personality.

One thing the show's figures have in common, though, is that they're out to have a good time. In "April Blue," three svelte blue jean-defined figures are set against a paler blue, diamond-print background. The women's lively hair and the application of a few sequins are among the festive flourishes. "Stepping Out Jeans" has three figures who seem equally primed for a night out on the town.

It's significant that the artist often relies on jean material that is striped or otherwise patterned, because these fashionable lines reinforce a party mood. Examples include the six figures in "Starred and Striped Jeans."

And the artist goes all out in "Buttoned and Beaded Jeans," whose four figures are made from patterned red, yellow and green material. Colorful buttons and beads have been applied to their hair; and this cloth construction has a vertically striped yellow-and-blue background.

Besides the upright figures that occupy most of the exhibit, there are some constructions that are more environmental in nature.

In "Jeaned Beach," horizontally arranged blue jean legs evoke the seashore thanks to the frayed fabric resembling the surf. Also, cloth figures made out of brown, red and green material are shown resting on the beach and swimming in the surf.

And "Fans-ed In Jeans," which covers a lot of gallery wall space, features two rows of side-profile figures toppd by additional figures that are arranged in such a way that they resemble the People Tree sculpture on Columbia's downtown lakefront.

A second exhibit in the Art Department Gallery, "Dreams of Trees," features paintings and poetry by Shelley Lowell. Typified by works such as "River of Dreams," these paintings are surreal landscapes in which monochromatic expanses of paint are deployed to conjure up dreamy bodies of water and seemingly endless plains only broken by a tree trunk or two; and the artist's accompanying poems are the literary equivalent of what you're looking at.

Your eyes are encouraged to go back and forth between the paintings and the poems. In the painting "Flying," the celestial imagery prompts thoughts about travel to the stars. The accompanying poem includes the lines: "I was flying/ high in the sky/ swirling amongst clouds/ sliding down rainbows/ playing with stars/ visiting distant galaxies/ exploring other dimensions."

Julie van Hemert and Shelley Lowell exhibit through April 28 at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Go to http://www.howardcc.edu.