Visitors to the Columbia Festival of the Arts-related art exhibit "Things That Scare Me" may experience sleepless nights as a result. Shown jointly at the Columbia Art Center and Howard Community College, this show taps into a host of topics guaranteed to make you feel uneasy.
You're also like to emerge from the galleries with a nervous smile, because there is enough unexpected subject matter, clever technique and whimsical attitude on display to prompt your own humorous consideration of essentially serious concerns.
In the Columbia Art Center portion of the exhibit, for instance, it's visually jolting to see Federico A. Ruiz's mixed medium "Necknoose." This wall-mounted piece calls your attention to a black necktie that has a noose-evocative knot. It's disturbing to see something as infused with civilized traits as a tie metaphorically transformed into an object more suitable for a lynch mob, but you're also likely to smile at seeing such an imaginative creation.
Just as "Necknoose" delivers an unsettling mixed message, Linda Press' otherwise very different "Temptation" likewise combines good and bad associations. This oil painting depicts an open box of chocolate candy. Few people have sufficient discipline to resist chocolate, even though their figures and their teeth may suffer as a result.
Many of the most effective pieces of art in the Columbia Art Center portion of the show blend good and bad things. They tap into anxieties that can be difficult to neatly categorize.
George L. Smyth's pinhole sieve photograph "They Come Out at Night," for example, is a seemingly unthreatening image of a sun-dappled forest. The light level in these woods is so low, however, that your imagination is prompted to take over and supply a narrative suitable for a horror movie.
Besides the paintings, photographs and mixed medium artworks hanging on its walls, the Columbia Art Center also includes some three-dimensional pieces that are just as capable of making you feel unsettled.
Scott McNabb takes something as reassuring as a ceramic jug and makes it creepy in "Spider Jug." The side of this nicely curving jug looks like it has been blasted open, and the jug's surface is raised in places by the incorporation of three ceramic spiders. McNabb has another ceramic piece, "Bomb," that also is a vase with what seems like explosive damage to one side.
Although the Howard Community College portion of this group exhibit similarly has artwork in various mediums, it has a particularly strong selection of ceramics.
Rick Malmgren's Raku fired clay "Walking the Volcano's Rim" and white stoneware clay "Fault 8-23-11" are vessels whose jagged rims prompt thoughts of geological upheaval.
Paula Behm-Windle's ceramic "I Think I Created a Monster!" is a humanoid-evocative orb whose mini-claws and beady eyes make it seem like something that would reside in your subconscious.
And, speaking of monsters, Trisha Kyner's marbled clay, wood and artificial foliage "Indecorous Harpies" is a sculptural representation of two harpies whose elongated wings, tails, breasts, necks and faces make them a mythological menace.
Among non-ceramic artwork, a mixed medium piece designed to make you perspire is Heather Boaz's "The Cleavers," in which two actual metal cleavers rest in a red velvet-lined wood case. It's true that these sharp cutting tools might come in handy in the kitchen, but it's impossible not to think about other possible uses.
After viewing this two-venue exhibit, you'll have plenty to occupy your thoughts while walking back to your car. What if you are suddenly hit by a bolt of lightning? After all, summer storms are fast and fierce around here.
"Things That Scare Me" runs through June 29 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village in Columbia. Call 410-730-0075 or go to http://www.ColumbiaArtCenter.org. The Howard Community College half of the exhibit has a reception June 24, 5:30-7:30 p.m., and then runs through July 27 in its Rouse Co. Foundation Gallery, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Go to http://www.howardcc.edu.