A recent plein air paint-out held in the historic district of Ellicott City was not just a weekend event that came and went, because many of the resulting paintings are now on display in the exhibit "Paint It! Ellicott City" at the Howard County Arts Council.
The show's juror, painter and teacher Michael Bare, has made a selection that gives a street-level sense of why residents and tourists alike love hanging out in this old town.
As you would expect within this urban context, much of the artwork overtly calls your attention to houses, stores, churches and other distinctive structures.
The architectural focus is very tight in Mary Jo Messenger's oil painting "Hill Street Timanus House." This close-up view depicts a flower garden in front of a small house. Just as the flowers brighten the picture, the monochromatic gray stone house is made cheerful by a red front door and green shutters on a window.
Other artists also emphasize such bursts of color. Kathleen G. Kotarba's oil painting "Welcome Home" gets up relatively close to a pale green wood frame house sited on a steep hill. Complementing the color of the house is the slightly darker green depicting the lawn and the really dark green deployed to represent the backing trees.
Michael Kotarba's watercolor "The Blue House" likewise makes a colorful house the center of attention. The balancing vertical elements in this composition are not provided by trees so much as by the utility poles prominently located in front of the house.
Speaking of the utility poles in this densely built town, Joanna Barnum's watercolor "Caplan's" features that landmark store sign on Main Street and yet it's challenged for visual domination by all of the nearby utility poles and wires.
For even more architecture, check out Duane Sabiston's oil painting "St. Paul's Rectory," which emphasizes the steepness of its pitched roof; and Carol Leo's watercolor "Old Courthouse," a tightly cropped view depicting its top floor and dome.
Urban geometry is the essence of Mark Coates' oil painting "Gold and Blue," in which a gold-painted house and a blue-painted house are like geometric blocks rising up a hill; and the same artist's oil painting "8358 Main Street" stresses the angles formed by the house, its porch rail, and, yes, nearby utility poles.
For a concentrated study of architectural detail, consult Stephen Hollis' acrylic painting "Around Town." It's a gridded arrangement of six distinct small paintings that feature such closely observed things as a church steeple and a front door.
An uncommon urban vantage point can be seen in Heather Leatherman's oil painting "Secret Rooftop Barbeque." True to its title, it has that secluded rooftop barbeque as the focus of attention, with the tops of a utility pole and trees as the backdrop.
People rarely figure directly into the architecturally oriented artwork, but they make occasional appearances. Bruno Baran's oil painting "All He Surveys" features a tiny and rather indistinct person standing on the front porch of a house.
Among the artists interested in the atmospheric effects around the town's buildings, a fine example is David Diaz's oil painting "Morning Light — Judges Bench." It's a very quiet scene with pinkish white tones suggesting a town that's still waking up. A human couple can be made out within the atmospheric haze.
Edward Williams' oil painting "Dusk in Ellicott City" blends shades of gray and white to represent the upper floors of buildings and a church steeple set against an assertive blue sky.
Getting away from buildings and venturing into the woods, Steve Stannard's watercolor "Oella Swimming Hole" depicts how filtered sunlight falls across trees, water and a few swimmers.
As for the artists who made these and other paintings in the show, the tables are turned, if you will, in Bruno Baran's oil painting "Plein Air Painter at Work" and Greg Johannesen's pastel "The Kotarbas." These artists are shown on the streets as they visually record their impressions of the town.
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"Paint It! Ellicott City" runs through Aug. 22 in Gallery I at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is "Overtones: Tales Told Through the Eyes of Peruvian Children." Curated by Howard County Arts Council resident artist Andres Gomez, this Catholic Medical Mission Board-facilitated exhibit features photos that Peruvian children using disposable cameras took of their families. Call 410-313-2787 or go to http://www.hocoarts.org.