The city of Paris is recognizably itself in the photographs taken by Brian P. Miller, but the people and landscapes painted by Izya Shlosberg only exist in this artist's imagination. That makes for pronounced stylistic distinctions in their two-artist exhibit at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House.
Shlosberg's title for her half of the show, "Between Us, Angels," immediately acknowledges that mundane reality is not to be expected. These surreal paintings aren't shy about placing heavenly references down here on earth.
In the most overtly angelic painting, "Game Time," three white-robed angels play cards at a table that's placed in a snowy field backed by what looks like an Old World city. It's not a directly religious painting, but its whimsical treatment of sacred figures does convey a sense of how spirituality has, er, a place at the table.
This artist's paintings are populated by angels, clowns, elephants, fairy tale-evocative villages, women, bottles, cats and much more. These representational images are placed within idealized landscapes that you won't find on any map.
Although these good-looking paintings have an appealing whimsical mood, you may find yourself wondering whether some of the surreal juxtapositions are facile rather than truly meaningful. Even if you harbor such doubts, there is no denying that it's fun to imagine your own explanations for what's going on in some of the paintings.
That sort of fun is epitomized by "Circus II." Doing the math, this painting depicts four women and four elephants in a blue-hued room with a theatrical-seeming green curtain to one side. Shlosberg plays games with scale, because some of the women and elephants are quite large and others are tiny; the artist also plays games with their interaction, because the activities include a woman and a small elephant playing a game of chess while seated atop a huge purple elephant.
Similar game playing with scale occurs in "The Concert at Night," in which three cellists are seated on giant pears scattered on a forest floor; then again, is it that the pears are very big or that the people are extremely small? Behind these musicians is a large and watchful human face improbably wedged within a split-open tree trunk.
Speaking of playing games, a deck of playing cards figures into "Art Deco." A slender, white-gowned giant woman standing at the center of the painting drops cards that in effect merge with the card-shaped buildings hugging the ground.
As in so much surrealism, the odd juxtapositions of objects and scale are guaranteed to make you smile and speculate.
Miller's half of the exhibit, titled "Splendid Cite," uses the French word for "city" to underscore the fact that these photographs were shot in Paris. Actually, some of them were shot in such adjacent locations as Versailles.
Miller's technical versatility starts with his shooting some of these photos in color and others in black-and-white.
It's pleasantly surprising to note that the decision-making process as to which approach to take is not always what you might expect. It's to be expected that "Wisteria on the Bridge" is shot in color, because those trailing purple flowers make quite an impression. You might expect "Poppies" also to be shot in color, but it's shot in black-and-white; the close-up of the poppies has them appear as fuzzy white orbs verging on abstraction.
Just as Miller varies whether to go with color or black-and-white, he's nimble when it comes to finding different ways to feature his French subject matter.
One thing he tends to do throughout this series, however, is pull up close to what he's shooting. The tightly cropped images include a "Green Ivy Rooftop," a "Fork and Knife" atop a cafe table, a roof of "Hotel, Giverny," bright red "Velour Stools" that were made for Marie Antoinette at Versailles, and the top of a "Golden Gate for the Sun King."
He's looking closely. You're encouraged to do the same.
Izya Shlosberg and Brian P. Miller exhibit through Dec. 19 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Wilde Lake Village, in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun