For a clear sense of what local artists are doing these days, have a look at the exhibit “Art Howard County 2017” at the Howard County Center for the Arts. Much of the best work in this show is characterized by a straightforward presentation in a technical sense, and by a corresponding thematic clarity. Put another way, you will be pleased and not puzzled by the artwork on display.
The juror for this group exhibit was Thomas Engleman, an assistant professor of studio arts and director of galleries at Howard Community College. His sharp eye for quality runs throughout the exhibit, but especially in the choice of realistic paintings in which precision really matters.
What could be considered Exhibit A in this regard is Deanne Lenehan, whose three acrylic paintings visually anchor one gallery wall. “Around Back” takes as its subject a view so ordinary that it’s the sort of thing that it’s easy to overlook. It depicts three mismatched chairs resting on what seems to be the loading dock of a warehouse or office building. The closely observed attention to realistic detail really puts you into a scene that you otherwise might ignore. “Wood and Lace” features the weathered side of an old building whose rather melancholic appearance is somewhat lifted emotionally by the lace curtains in a window. “Rust and Dust” presents badly rusted machinery that has seen better days. All three paintings serve as a reminder that old places and things do not seem to be likely places to find beauty and yet can possess something resembling humble beauty.
Another painter who really knows how to get close to a subject is Ned Rosinsky. His oil painting “Self Portrait” has the artist looking directly out at you and yet also appearing to be reflective in a manner that essentially involves him looking inward. What appears to be a blank canvas directly behind him ensures that your attention remains on the artist. Lest you think this artist is totally self-absorbed, Rosinsky also has an oil painting, “The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” in which that inspirational leader is depicted with light gently illuminating his face. The background is a near-monochromatic wash of brown paint, again ensuring that viewers keep looking at King.
A panoramic landscape is depicted by Roxana Sinex, whose oil painting “View from Above” features two hikers atop a mountain who are looking toward an impressively big valley off in the distance. In a clever installational move, this painting hangs next to a black-and-white photograph by Skip Squires, “Exploring Schoodic Peninsula,” in which a child is shown eagerly exploring rocky terrain.
Yet another clearly delineated landscape is presented in Karl Avellar’s oil painting “Tam River at Albi, France.” An old stone bridge, several buildings and trees all cast their reflections into a river so calm that the entire scene has a pastoral serenity.
And an oil painting that is just as sensitive where reflective qualities are concerned is Marcia Palmer’s “Lacing Up,” in which a ballerina sits on a studio floor that is brightened by natural light. The setting is so serene that the dancer’s moment of rest prompts you to calm down as well.
Not every painting in the show opts for crisply defined realism. Pat Dillon’s oil painting “Homage to Inness” is a moody landscape whose brown fields, isolated trees and dark sky evoke the brooding landscapes by the 19th-century American painter George Inness.
Among the painters of still-life subject matter, Sandra Dietzel makes a strong impression with two oil paintings, “Tuesday's Catch” and “Friday’s Catch,” which both offer close-up views of colorfully striped fish presumably shown in a market setting. As you look at these fish, their beady black eyes stare back at you.
If a lot of the finest work in this exhibit is relatively traditional in terms of subject matter and a realistic style, it’s also a show with its share of more unconventional artwork. There is one gallery wall, for instance, which contains three artists who to varying degrees venture into treating a canvas support in a three-dimensional way. Ilene Gold’s paper collage “Bikes (National Geographic magazines),” achieves a slightly layered effect with bicycle- and facial-related imagery. Barbara VanRossum’s oil painting “Ark” is done on a wood panel that has been carved out in places in order to make it seem like an assemblage of puzzle pieces. So many animals have been painted on these pieces that it would take Noah to count all of them. And Eileen Williams’ mixed-media and fabric “The Travelers” has numerous fabric-covered rectangular forms interlocked with each other and projecting a bit into the gallery air; indeed, there are so many of these rectangular projections that it might take you a moment to realize that nestled behind them are several fabric-covered face masks.
Also exhibiting are artists whose diverse styles and mediums make for a varied display. The other artists are James Lubitz, Brendan Robinson, Ona Martin, Mary Jo Tydlacka, Rebecca Zeligman, Nancy Berson, Thomas Wiggins, Andrei Trach, Katherine Farrell, Kyle Drummond, Rosemary Gemp, Lynda J. Mitic, Kate Hammen, Jamie Travers, Cheryl MacLean, Jennifer Hudson, Karen Cain, Stacey Berger, James Adkins, Diana Marta, John Gornto, Mark Newpher, Andrei Trach, Jean Cathey, Martha Hendrickson and Nelson Steele.
“Art Howard County 2017” runs through Dec. 15 in Gallery I at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is “Chroma,” with artists Sabine Carlson and Bob Mathews. There is a reception for both exhibits Nov. 10, 6- 8 p.m. Call 410-313-2787 or go to http://www.hocoarts.org