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It's in their nature to be abstract at Kish Gallery exhibit

The two artist-exhibit "Perspectives" at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House actually involves a shared perspective. Both Karen Carpenter and Irene Whitaker use acrylic and mixed media to make abstract paintings; and both artists also study with Martha Lohaus in Clarksville.

Yet another link is that they both find their subject matter in nature. Sometimes their abstract approach reduces nature to primal forms and colors, and sometimes there are painterly passages incorporating realistic depictions of nature.

At the abstract end of the stylistic spectrum, Carpenter's "Coral Reef" deploys very deep blue as the predominant color; irregular zones of orange, yellow and green resemble colorful clusters of coral. Moving slightly toward the other end of the stylistic spectrum, Carpenter has several paintings in which realistically rendered fish swim in what amount to abstract waters.

Carpenter's frequent reliance upon mixed media in her paintings often results in at least a portion of the painterly image having a raised surface. In "Moonscape," for instance, the mostly flat pictorial image has a purple-hued night sky that seems even darker and heavier thanks to the densely applied and cracked painterly mix.

Whitaker depicts a similar nocturnal scene in her seascape "Moonlight." The melding shades of purple and black are close to the colors that Carpenter uses in her moon-themed scene. A stylistic difference between these two artists, though, is that Whitaker generally relies upon nothing more than acrylic paint. Consequently, the surfaces of her paintings tend to be smooth and flat.

Also, Whitaker's work is set apart by the environmental themes that are bluntly stated right on the, er, surface. One of Whitaker's paintings that does incorporate mixed media, "Space Junk," shows the earth floating in an otherwise pitch-black solar system; the space trash is depicted via a grainy ring that's in orbit around our planet. Although it's impossible to make out any fragments of specific objects in that ring around the planet, let's hope that space station-dwelling humans don't throw candy wrappers into outer space.

Back down on earth, Whitaker's "Melting I" is directly representational in showing a polar bear climbing onto a floating block of ice in the Arctic Ocean. There's no missing a climate change message in such a painting.

Whitaker's other nature-themed paintings tend to have an interplay between abstract and representational elements. A good example is "When the Weather Breaks III." The burst of white light at the center of this composition is so bright that you can't see whatever is behind it; at the bottom of the image, however, are green vertical brush strokes that strongly evoke trees welcoming this dramatic appearance of sunlight.

More ominous is "Wildfire." The densely black ground supports the silhouetted forms of conifer trees reduced to black trunks; and the angry sky above is burning with assertive tones of orange and red.

Whitaker also allows for peaceful moments in nature, and some of them are Howard County-inspired landscapes. In the mostly abstract "Centennial Light," you can make out tree trunks amid the washes of yellow and brown paint, and several arcing black lines indicate birds flying through the scene.

"Centennial Dawn" is a realistic landscape painting in which it's easy to identify the green vegetation around the lake, as well as the glowing pink sky above it. Thank goodness there is no junk on the ground or wildfire on the horizon.

Karen Carpenter and Irene Whitaker exhibit through Oct. 19 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Green in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987 or go to

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