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Urban perspectives front and center at Rouse gallery

Two very different perspectives on urban life are on view in the exhibit "The City: Paintings by Robert Tennenbaum and Linda Press" at Howard Community College's Rouse Company Foundation Gallery.

Tennenbaum's aerial views of various cities are from so high up in the sky that it's way beyond where birds fly and closer to what a satellite would photograph. The precise height does not really matter, though, because these are highly schematic depictions that abstractly treat a city's layout in terms of blue lines for rivers, a black-lined grid for city streets, and patches of green for parks.

This interest in spatial relations is not surprising when you consider Tennenbaum's background as an architect and urban designer who worked on the original plans for Columbia in the 1960s.

His current exhibit includes several paintings set in our region. In "Baltimore: Harbor Into Polygon," he outlines the city's shape to emphasize how the irregular shoreline of the Patapsco River defines the southern side of the city and straight lines define the boundary with Baltimore County on the remaining sides of the city.

Tennenbaum often chooses older cities in which rivers, lakes or bays explain the original siting for the city and how such bodies of water continue to define our sense of these places.

"Annapolis: American Baroque" calls your attention to a compact colonial city whose shape was determined by river outlets and bay inlets.

Other cities receiving such pictorial treatment include "Boston: Freedom Trail," in which a similarly old port city juts out into the water; also, a prominently painted line snaking its way across the city represents a history-minded trail followed by tourists in Boston. And "Chicago: Lake-River City" stresses how both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan determine the urban layout.

Although such urban views are never more detailed than definitional lines and blocks of color, they do have specific points of reference. "Savannah: Oglethorpe's Plan" amounts to a Georgia geometry lesson in terms of how that city qualifies as an early American example of urban planning.

Cities overseas include one that lends itself especially well to Tennenbaum's working method. "Edinburgh: Old Town- New Town" makes a crisp distinction between the old part of town, which has medieval origins, and the new part of town, which was considered new when it was built in the 18th century.

Tennenbaum's "Venice: Floating Islands" is an Italian view that prompts comparisons with the second exhibiting artist. If Tennenbaum's overhead angle depicts its numerous canals as a busy network of lines, Linda Press has paintings of Venice that are directly representational and also much closer to the watery surface.

Press brings out the crowded nature of this water-defined city in "Venice," a tightly cropped scene in which an old house rises up directly next to a canal. The dusky painterly tones indicate the building's age, but this house also has bright green shutters that lend a festive touch.

Just as Tennenbaum travels the world and brings back his schematic sense of its cities, Press has paintings done in Italy, France, India, Russia, Croatia and elsewhere.

Although she also generally favors a high vantage point, she only goes as high as a rooftop and often has a more closely framed view. "Corner of Roof, Paris" shows how crowded it is up there with multiple chimneys and dormer windows poking through a mansard roof. She presents a more panoramic view of the city in "High Places, Paris."

Press can be very expressive with her colors and her at-times blurry brushwork. In "Market in India (Delhi)," the round-level scene is a blur of colorful human activity. And in another ground-level scene, "NYC Taxi," a bright yellow taxi occupies a street in the foreground and the buildings are relegated to the background.

In a separate exhibit in the college's Art Department Gallery, Carol Herren Foerster has an exhibit of drawings whose subjects include human portraits, as well as images of horses, cats, birds and butterflies. The depicted people and animals are drawn in considerable detail, but in a selective manner in which there typically may only be white space surrounding a figure or even just a face.

That attention to detail comes across especially well in the thin lines used to depict hair. This is the case with the very fine lines showing the hair of a sleeping baby in "Lucine" and the somewhat thicker lines showing the hair on a horse's head in "Gracie." Then in "The Rider," a view from the back depicting a woman riding a horse, your attention is, er, drawn both to the woman's long hair running down her back and to the horse's long tail.

"The City: Paintings by Robert Tennenbaum and Linda Press" and "Carol Herren Foerster: Drawings" run through April 27 at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Go to http://www.howardcc.edu

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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