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Rex Stevens casts pop cultural spell at HCC

Contemporary pop culture bombards us with images and associations. You'll get a sense of that sensory overload in Rex R. Stevens' exhibit "Spellbound" in Howard Community College's Rouse Company Foundation Gallery.

His photo-derived digital prints are like cultural collages in which the overlaid and juxtaposed images often seem to be floating rather than fixed. Qualifying as Exhibit A in this exhibit is "Head," which playfully riffs on the Beatles' famous 1967 album cover "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Stevens' busy composition incorporates the band's name, but mostly is given over to photographic head shots that are closely spaced in the spirit of the album cover artwork; however, the assembled heads in "Head" are an eclectic assortment including George W. Bush, Marilyn Monroe, Ray Charles, and Baltimore's own John Waters.

Many works in this exhibit can be just as arbitrary in drawing on diverse source material, but other works have a tighter focus. In "Sports Illustrated," for example, the imagery is all derived from basketball, baseball, horse racing, football and auto racing. Each sport is given some space of its own within the overall composition, but the imagery also overlaps to some extent.

Another sports-themed piece has an even tighter focus. In "The Boxers," two fighters square off. Their bodies are outlined with a brute simplicity, but those bodies also are colored in with such a variety of tones that this painterly quality softens the picture.

Just as there are painterly effects throughout these digital prints, they also generally have a collage quality. In "New England Farmhouse," the blocks of color deployed to represent the house and surrounding landscape resemble torn-up pieces of variously colored paper.

It's the sort of show in which a generic image of a farm will be hanging near a more culturally specific image. In the 1960s TV series-referenced "Gidget," there's no mistaking the happy young woman posing with her surfboard. This teen surfer seems right at home in a show with obvious baby boomer appeal.

'Fruits of Our Labor' exhibit

A second exhibit, "Fruits of Our Labor," is in HCC's Art Department Gallery. Its a group show in which most of the still-life paintings feature enough fruits and vegetables to satisfy your appetite for art.

Just as you're concerned about what you put on your plate, these artists are thinking of ways to come up with interesting arrangements within this venerable artistic genre.

Katherine Farrell's "Plums and Preserves" places one purple plum and one red plum in the foreground. Behind them is a Mason jar filled with preserves. It would be the diner's choice whether to eat plums now or at some future date.

Different food groups are combined in Howard Garrett's "Lemon with Asparagus." You may contemplate how they would taste in the same meal, but also may contemplate their very different shapes and colors.

Contemplation also extends to the attractive containers that make food seem even more appetizing in Mary Jo Messenger's "Peaches in Blue and White Bowl." Besides admiring that bowl, you'll note that the artist has a sensitive and subtle painterly approach to the patterned wallpaper in the background.

Most of the exhibiting artists place their still-life subjects either on top of a table or an abstracted flat surface, but several opt for unconventional surfaces or accompanying props.

Karl Avellar's "Tangerine" has a single little tangerine resting next to three brown paper bags that stand upright in such a lofty way that you're just as likely to fix your attention on these unusual brown mini-towers.

By way of unconventional surface, you would want to thoroughly rinse the fruit in Marina Borovok's "Peaches on the Sand." That's because this painting depicts three peaches incongruously resting on a sandy beach.

Also exhibiting in this still-life show are Karen Winston Levin, Pam Perna, Lisa Coddington (who curated the exhibit), Shirley Chandler and Kathy Stowe.

"Spellbound" and "Fruits of Our Labor" remain through Nov. 11 at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Go to

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