If you want confirmation that there are a lot of artists living in Howard County, check out the “HoCo Open 2019” exhibit at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City. This non-juried exhibit features 120 artists showing a single work apiece.
As you would expect under these conditions, the artwork is all over the place in terms of subject matter and style; for that matter, it’s all over the walls in a salon-style installation that sure keeps your eyes busy.
Among those artists exhibiting oil paintings, there are some especially strong examples. It doesn’t hurt that several of them are of geographic and seasonal interest.
Sid Branham, for instance, has “EC Square.” It’s a gridded arrangement of four small oil paintings depicting scenes along Main Street in Ellicott City. The tightly cropped images focus your attention on such attractions as the B&O railroad museum. It’s also nice to see a close-up of the clock at the foot of Main Street, because it has become such a symbol of this old town’s survival skills. On a painterly note, Branham makes astute use of sharp definitional lines and deeply saturated colors.
Another locally oriented oil painting is Mary Smith-Luther’s “Icy Patapsco.” Her vantage point is so close to the water that pretty much all you see is the iced over river, a few rocks poking through it, and bare trees in the background.
Among the portraits and other figurative subjects in this show, an engaging example is Judith Alt’s “The Birthday Party.” It presents seven girls who are posing in front of a garage door. The way in which they smile and strike poses conveys the sense of friendship and silliness one expects at such an event.
Not every figurative painting provides a head to toe look at the human subject. Indeed, Laurie Donnelly’s “En Pointe” doesn’t show much more than the toes. That’s because this tightly cropped, sharply angled view is of three dancers seen from their lower legs down to their white ballet slippers resting on a gray floor. This perspective gives the essence of dance.
And the human presence is only implied in Howard Garrett’s “Garage Find,” in which a wood wall notable for its peeling paint is the backdrop for an arrangement of objects including a sculptural figurine, an oil can, a pencil and a few metal tools. In an art-historical sense, Garrett’s painting is reminiscent of the so-called “rack” paintings done by 19th-century American artists known for their highly realistic domestic detail.
Among the oil paintings depicting landscapes, a real beauty is Stephanie A. Boyer’s “Old Spanish Mission.” She keeps the composition simple: a bell hangs in a white stone tower that is topped by a black metal cross; the deep blue sky really makes this spare composition hold your attention. Incidentally, hanging next to Boyer's painting is a similarly themed watercolor by Carol Zika, “Ghost Ranch Patio,” in which a bell hangs above a courtyard that is visually dominated by a colorful flowerbed.
Among photographers in the show, admirable examples include Maria Charest’s “Hidden Surprise,” which features a rusted antique car nearly concealed by an overgrown field. If there is a sense of mystery in terms of the history of that vehicle and its location, it’s much easier to get your bearings while looking at Dave Kile’s “The Lakefront.” Yes, it's Lake Kittamaqundi at twilight.
Nature photographs that make good use of sharp focus and assertive colors include Kim Young’s “Resting Butterfly” and Chenggang Wang’s “Hummingbird’s Breakfast.”
There’s a much more subdued approach to nature in Marie McGing’s black-and-white photo “Bearded Iris.” She emphasizes basic floral shapes with this picture of two white flowers set against a dark background.
Artists working with mixed media include Jonathan Bush. His “Workboats Waiting” deploys graphite, charcoal, pastel and watercolor in an understated manner. The gray-white boats at a dock and the pale green marsh in the distance engender a contemplative mood.
Other mediums in the show include a mosaic by Roslyn Zinner, “Flower Child,” in which a small child pulls up close to flowers in a garden. The unevenly sided mosaic tiles are put to particularly effective use to represent the greenery.
For sculptural assemblages with a whimsical sensibility, have a look at Ed Kidera’s "On the Road Again," in which pieces of steel, copper, brass and wood are linked together to form a couple of trucks that seem ready to compete in a “Road Warrior” movie; and Bill Knapp’s “Bones,” in which steel, horseshoes and pipe hangers are cleverly combined to make a skeletal animal.
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This exhibit definitely fills Gallery I at the arts center.
Step across the hallway to see the exhibit in Gallery II. “Fiber Redux” consists of mixed media fiber artworks by Kelly Boehmer and Meg Schaap.
Boehmer’s approach is epitomized by “Puppy,” in which silk flowers, glitter, taxidermy and fabric are densely packed together to make a dog-evocative, floor-mounted sculpture that’s somewhat reminiscent of a sculpture by Jeff Koons. Boehmer’s other pieces include the wall-mounted “Gaudy Gold Frame,” in which lame and polyfil suggest an elaborate frame around a mirror.
That deliberately over-the-top quality is shared by Schaap, whose floor-mounted “Bloom” and “Marie Antoinette” are constructed out of Vogue magazines, acrylic paint, sequins and gold leaf. These sculptural dress forms are very much in keeping with an 18th- century French queen who was not shy when it came to making a fashion statement.