'Abstractions': Evoking galleries of private images

You need to use your imagination as much as your eyes when viewing the three-artist exhibit "Seeing Differently: Abstractions" at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House. Although these artists provide the occasional figurative reference, they mostly rely on colorful abstract forms to prompt you to see things in the mind's eye.

Look quickly at Karen Carpenter's acrylic painting "Flamenco" and you see a jagged-edged red form set against a yellow background. So far, so abstract. Look for a moment longer, however, and you'll clearly see the figurative outline of a dancer poking through that red zone.

Carpenter achieves a similar effect in other acrylic paintings, including "Identity," whose abstract painterly mix opens up in one section to reveal a pale human face.

The hide-and-seek nature of her work isn't always a matter of looking for direct representations of humanity in what otherwise are all-over abstractions. In "Greening the Grid," she makes reference to a basic ordering principle of abstract paintings that relies on a grid design rather than gestural energy.

A pink-hued grid covers the canvas, but it almost seems like a ghosted image barely showing through all that pink. Also, a large portion of that grid is completely obscured by a mostly green-hued abstract form that's so irregularly shaped it might as well be a vine wildly climbing up a trellis.

Irene Whitaker's acrylic paintings often incorporate atmospheric effects that allude to skies without being too literal-minded about it.

A couple of paintings in a series entitled "When the Weather Breaks" depict cloudy gray skies with bits of yellow peeking through. These paintings obviously can be seen as representations of unsettled skies, but the paint handling is loose enough to make them qualify as more or less abstract compositions. Then again, you could make the case that they're faithful reproductions of our recent rainy weather.

Whitaker also has the sky in her thoughts in such paintings as "Warming Up," in which a sun-evocative yellow orb lights up an abstract composition aptly done in temperature-elevating shades of orange, yellow and red. People can debate global warming, but there's no denying that this painting looks very warm indeed.

This artist's environmental concerns are also expressed in paintings like her "Woods," with its densely gestural brushwork creating a green thicket. By way of environmental politics, "BP" is one of several works in which her floating browns and blacks conjure up images of the Gulf Coastoil spill.

Whitaker stays in an ecological frame of mind in "Plastic Pacific." It depicts a realistically rendered dolphin rising above the surface of the sea. This mixed-medium work has a plastic lei and other bits of actual plastic affixed to the painted composition. The message about pollution is valid, but such paintings run the risk of being too obvious and facile in conveying that message.

The late Charlie Powell, to whom this exhibit is dedicated, has acrylic paintings in which realism and abstraction find ways to get along. "Sunflowers" is basically a realistic painting depicting an arrangement of those big and bright flowers in a vase. The background is just a pale purple wash, however, and what would be a tabletop anchoring the bottom of a traditional still-life painting instead is no more than a rectangular yellow zone.

Powell's "Lonesome Tree" is deliberately fuzzier in its fusion of realistic and abstract approaches to painting. The title tree is set apart from a fog-shrouded forest. Grayish white paint obscures most of the landscape. It's as if abstraction is rolling in with the fog.

"Seeing Differently: Abstractions" remains through Sept. 24 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, at 10400 Crossfox Lane, in the Wilde Lake village of Columbia. As part of the annual "Road to the Arts" gallery weekend, there is a public reception being held Sat., Sept. 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. Call 410-730-3987 or go to http://www.wildelake.org.

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