Two artists, two views at Kish Gallery

Thomas Fretz
Thomas Fretz (Submitted photo /)

The photographs by Thomas Fretz and paintings by Elaine Weiner-Reed are so different in medium and method that you almost feel the need for a passport as you pass through the doorway from one exhibit to the next at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House.

It's not just a matter of the obvious technological difference between high-resolution digital photography and paintings that combine acrylic with other materials.


On a stylistic level, Fretz almost always opts for clarity in close-up photos, while Weiner-Reed's figurative subject matter is deliberately almost obscured by the layers of paint applied in a quasi-abstract manner.

Fretz likes to get up close to his floral and other subjects in an exhibit he calls "Reflections Past and Present." The basic effect is to have you linger and consider the world at closer quarters than usual. This is especially thecase with floral close-ups that call your attention to flowers that ordinarily you might just glance at in the garden.


In "Coneflower," for instance, you're prompted to look at the individual purple petals gently arching at the center of a photographic composition that really offers you almost nothing else to consider. As in his other photos, the background is sufficiently blurry that it registers as zones of color rather than anything more specific.

That sort of concentrated attention also can be seen in "Blue Poppy," because the extreme closeness of this photo really makes you think about this particular flower's intensely blue color.

Although there is an equal focus on the intense yellow of sunflowers in three related shots, they otherwise exemplify how much changes when the photographer varies the pictorial depth. In "Sunflower I," the single enormous flower fills much of the image, whereas in "Sunflower II" and even more so in "Sunflower Fields" there are multiple flowers and a sense of the larger field in which they grow.

Even though this photographer almost always has tightly composed images that make it absolutely clear what you're examining, an ironic aspect of such work is that sometimes a close and very sharp look can verge on abstraction. "White Orchid" does look like its title, but its swirling flower petals also resemble the organic abstractions one associates with 20th-century photographs by Edward Weston and paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe.

Fretz's inclination to get up close remains constant in this exhibit, but his subject matter changes quite a bit. Another exhibited series was shot in western Maryland at the Lonaconing Silk Mill, a facility that closed in 1957 and whose contents have remained frozen in time since then. Fretz is among the writers and photographers who have been drawn to this ghostly facility in recent years.

You get a haunting sense of the workers who left work and never returned to a suddenly closedfactory in photos such as "Silk Spools." These spools are quietly resting on a table as if awaiting the workers' return from a weekend off. Likewise, "Spinning Machine" and other photos poetically seem like they were shot in an ancient tomb that has been excavated in order to reveal the remarkably well-preserved contents.

Fretz's third exhibited series involves close-up shots of junked cars whose final resting site is a place named Old Car City in White, Georgia. The photographer calls your attention to 1950s-vintage cars whose streamlined fins and stylish logo designs would make anybody proud to drive a Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Chevy, Plymouth or Ford. We don't see much of the rest of the cars, but we do see just enough of the rusted-out hoods to realize that these autos are resting for eternity in an auto graveyard.

Elaine Weiner-Reed gives the title "Honoring the Journey - Revealing Layers" to her mixed-media paintings. The operative word here is "layers," because the layering of paint and other material makes the already-schematic renderings of nude women seem even more partial and obscured.

The artist's individual painting titles and accompanying brief texts reinforce the sense of figures whose journey through life has many layers. The women typically are not given any individual psychological development, but instead have the totemic qualities associated with art as ancient as what you would expect to find in a cave painting depicting women in a primal, stick figure way.

"Joined by the Heart" and "Ancestral Whispers III" are but two of the paintings in which standing figures are outlined in such a sketchy way with thin definitional lines that the figures nearly melt into the layering of colors behind them and also partially over them.

Something relatively more specific and easy to make out can be seen in "Curtain Call," in which the pink-hued figures have enough presence to seem as if they are waiting just off stage for that curtain call.

Even more specific is "Group Dynamics," depicting three figures whose white bodies are outlined with thin black lines. Although this acrylic painting does not give us very much physical detail, the spare lines hint at facial expressions and hence emotional states in a manner evocative of the neo-classical figuration found in both Picasso and Matisse in the early 1920s.


Thomas Fretz and Elaine Weiner-Reed exhibit through June 11 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987.

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