There is so much historical architecture on display in Ellicott City that the old mill town keeps your eyes occupied as you climb its steep hills. "Paint It! Ellicott City 2016" is an annual exhibit at the Howard County Center for the Arts that showcases the artists who set up their easels outdoors on a hot summer weekend and quickly produced the exhibited paintings, watercolors and pastels.
The selection juror, M. Stephen Doherty, and the awards judge, Gino Molfino, have made visually striking choices that make the entire town seem like it has been freshly painted and now awaits your visit. Although this scenery will be familiar to the town'sresidents and devoted visitors, artists have a way of finding vantage points that prompt you to take another look at even the most familiar sites; likewise, their expressive gestures and color choices affect how you see this place.
Some of the most eye-catching work emphasizes the town's architectural solidity. This often involves modest homes as often as it does landmark structures. John Slivjak's oil painting "House on Hill Street," which won a 2nd Place award, features a house-lined street whose diagonal orientation cuts through the pictorial space. A house in the foreground has a white-painted wood porch whose simple and firm construction encourages you to think about the painting in geometric terms, namely, how all those lines relate to each other.
Hanging next to that painting is another oil painting, Ann Schaefer's "Catching the Breeze on Church Road," which is a tightly composed image totally devoted to a Victorian wood frame house whose woodwork is much more ornate. Also, the American flag hanging over the front steps serves as a reminder of the implied human presence. Most of the work in this show is unpeopled, because the artists are presenting the streets and buildings; and yet nearly every piece gives a strong sense of the people who call this place home.
Other works with a strong sense of the built environment include David Diaz's "First Light," which won 3rd Place. It depicts an old building against whose side are placed two ladders occupied by paintbrush-wielding workers. It's a reminder that upkeep is a constant issue when you own a 19th- or early 20th-century structure.
Artists can draw your attention to a particular aspect of these densely-packed buildings. In Beth Bathe's oil painting "Windows of Ellicott City," the subdued palette has such quiet shades of brown and white that you're encouraged to think about the variously shaped windows set into several relatively tall buildings.
Besides works depicting single buildings or small stretches of buildings, there are works calling your attention to portions of buildings. In Slivjak's oil painting "St. Paul's Church," for instance, the tightly-cropped image only presents the cupola atop the church. It really seems like it's way up there in the clouds. In that respect, the cross at the very top seems like it's claiming a near-heavenly address.
Buildings aren't the only things pushing skyward. There are utility poles along a narrow street in Raymond Ewing's oil painting "Wired," which won an Honorable Mention. And for a truly panoramic view, Schaefer's oil painting "Court Hill View" conveys the extent to which utility poles and tall trees are vertical elements rising high above the houses and shops along the Main Street corridor.
That view from atop a hill is something found in other works, too, which remind you of all of the narrow, hilly streets twisting and turning above Main Street. This is expressed really well by Greg Johannesen's pastel "St. Paul Street," which won 1st Place. The composition isdominated by the snaking yellow line running down the middle of a narrow street. The houses hugging that street are so close to the road that the shoulder can't be more than a few feet.
In addition to its distinctive streets and buildings, Ellicott City is also defined by the Patapsco River and, of course, its little tributary, the Tiber.
Duane Sabiston's oil painting "Splash in Patapsco," which won 4th Place, features a loneperson and a dogrelaxing in the river. The surrounding trees are so meltingly green that you feel as if you are far away from civilization.
Other artists also depict people wading into the shallow water; and there are unpeopled scenes in which the center of attention is water rushing past rocks. Among the artists drawn to such waterysettings are Deborah Maklowski, Alison Leigh Menke, Jennifer Brakefield, Matt Fenton IV, Courtney E. Leeand Randall Graham.
"Paint It! Ellicott City 2016" runs through Aug. 19 in Gallery I at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is "Montgomery Portrait Artists." Call 410-313-2787 or go to www.hocoarts.org.