The two exhibits at Howard Community College are guaranteed to make you notice them. “Jereme Scott: Super Cinematic” in the college’s Richard B. Talkin Family Art Gallery and “Seth Goodman: Certitudes and Tittle-Tattle” in its the Rouse Company Foundation Gallery are very different in terms of subject matter and style, and yet these artists both know how to make you a tad uneasy.
Scott’s oil paintings rely upon strong colors and frequently enigmatic narratives that ensure you’ll linger before them in hopes of arriving at an explanation. In some cases, you can arrive at a likely explanation; and yet sometimes there will be a painting in which you’re mostly left with a lingering mood.
“Watcher of Suite Singapore,” for instance, depicts a dog resting on a bed in an upper-floor urban apartment. Through a floor-to-ceiling window, you see a sprawling cityscape. Scott’s use of a blue-gray palette gives the painting a quiet and even meditative quality. A mood is established and there is not really a narrative.
There’s definitely a narrative involved in “While Birds Watch the City Burn,” and you won't rest easy upon encountering it. Birds are shown resting on a swing-set and a jungle gym that may as well have been borrowed from the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds.” Equally disturbing are utility poles that resemble crosses suitable for a crucifixion. Wait, there’s more. A helicopter is ominously flying overhead, and way off in the distance a city skyline is burning.
Not everything is ominous in Scott’s world view. Indeed, he seems interested in placing scenes within a wide assortment of natural environments.
In “Salt,” an orange-and-brown landscape with impressive cacti occupies the foreground of the composition; the middle distance is given over to pink-and-white desert sand that helps explain the title; and in the distance are purple mountains. This setting has an austere beauty.
Also reassuring is “Time of Year,” in which baseball bats rest against a chain-link fence in the foreground, while a baseball game is being played on the other side of the fence. It’s significant that in this painting and others the artist favors the dusk as the preferred time of day, because the gentle shades of purple, orange and blue in the sky establish a peaceful mood.
Through all the changes in environmental location and emotional tone, Scott clearly wants you to look closely at his paintings. Therefore it is really appropriate that his exhibit includes “Gaze.” It is a very closely cropped depiction of two eyes. You can note that the eyes are green and that they have the spiked black eyelashes of a fashion-conscious person, but that’s about it in terms of individual psychology. Instead, it’s more important to think about such a painting as an invitation for us to look closely.
Also, Scott makes smart choices about when to use solid zones of color and when to use a mix of colors. In “Gaze,” the subject's skin is depicted with varied tones. Get close to a subject and you are more likely to notice such variations.
Seth Goodman’s exhibit is much more specific in terms of subject matter and meaning. Indeed, there is scathing political satire in these paintings and works on paper. Among the targets are Vladimir Putin, Mitch McConnell, Hillary Clinton, Antonin Scalia, Sam Walton, Oliver North and Barbara Bush.
Goodman’s image-and-text compositions directly connect with our recent history. Depending upon where you place yourself along the political spectrum, you may find yourself either laughing or snarling.
Placing Goodman’s work within an art-historical context, there are stylistic similarities with English satirical artists of the late 18th century, and also with German satirical artists of the 1910s and 1920s.
Typical of this artist’s irreverent stance is “Wilbur Ross Goes Outside the Box.” He presents the United States Secretary of Commerce in an Everyman-suitable outfit consisting of blue jeans and a green T-shirt. He’s holding a soda bottle as he stands next to a trash can and a picnic table. Based on the image alone, you would get the impression that here is a politician demonstrating that he is a simple man of the people.
Goodman’s accompanying text does not let him off so lightly. The text reads: “When Wilbur Ross wants to get a deeper feel for the consumer confidence index he uses a secret method that he came up with when he was at Yale. He puts on some casual clothes and drives out to various interstate rest areas to try and talk to folks face to face.”
Then set a bit further down in the composition is what amounts to the punch line of the joke: “He tried to park as far away as possible.”
It’s inevitable that viewers will respond to the political commentary in this exhibit, but don’t neglect to consider some of the artistic techniques deployed. In “Unsettled Proletariat,” for example, there are two grotesquely fleshy faces set against a stark gray-and-black background. The accompanying text reads: “That time Chris Christie was accosted while walking to the GW bridge.” The stylistic presentation of those faces doubtless would seem familiar to a German Expressionist artist responding to World War I and its aftermath.