"The Drawing Show" at the Life of Maryland Gallery draws on regional artists who have exhibited there before. The artists in this invitational show are realists who otherwise don't necessarily have much in common.
A handy comparison-contrast is to consider what Diana Marta and Greg Otto do with urban subject matter. For Marta, who easily has the most invigorating drawings in the entire show, the city is treated in a generic and rather ominous manner. She also makes it clear that the city belongs to cars as much as to people.
In Marta's oil stick drawing simply titled "Street," for instance, she places automobiles in the foreground so that there's no doubt as to what anchors the scene. In the oil stick drawing "Red Lights," the cars are clustered under traffic lights that hang overhead with the same vague foreboding as they do in the David Lynch TV series "Twin Peaks." And in her best piece here, the graphite drawing "Convenience Store," Marta uses quick, assertive lines to convey how a driver in a hurry pulls up to a convenience store for what will probably be a fast-food fix.
If Diana Marta is the real traffic stopper in this show, Greg Otto treats the city in an entirely different way. He produces cleanly drawn and quite specific city scenes that range from the former Arcade movie theater in Hamilton to a now-closed Harley's sandwich shop; and as in those two nostalgic examples, he often gives us images of buildings that no longer serve either sandwiches or movies.
Otto's reliance on bright colors sometimes works for him, as in the customer eye-catching orange walls of the sandwich shop, but it works against him in a colored pencil drawing such as "Stetson," in which the overly distinct bands of color in the sky are too extreme for realism and too timid for abstraction.
This drawing show is otherwise no more than a so-so exhibit. The other artists represented are Grif Bates, Blake Conroy, Huguette May, Ronald Russell and Stuart Stein. In the case of Stein, he has a fine drawing hand, but seeing these small preparatory studies apart from his finished paintings at best leaves a partial impression.
Hanging just a few blocks away from the Life of Maryland Gallery exhibit is the Maryland Institute College of Art's annual alumni show, "Observances: Photographs by Herman Emmet '75 and Jan Staller '75."
These classmates have both published photography books -- Emmet on migrant fruit pickers and Staller on peopleless scenes in New York City -- so the exhibition pairing makes sense. It's also interesting to have one body of work in which people are the explicit focus and another in which we must infer their presence through the built environment.
However, considering how many images from the two books there were to choose from, it's disappointing that Emmet is represented by only 20 photos and Staller by 17. We don't get a full enough sense of how Emmet tracked the misfortunes of one poor family, or of how Staller has his own particular take on the scenic possibilities of New York.
What makes the show even more disappointing is that the paltry selection of photos is surrounded by many square feet of bare gallery wall space. You can't help feeling that folks at the Maryland Institute were anxious to get this show up and then take off for summer vacation.
"The Drawing Show" remains at the Life of Maryland Gallery, at 901 N. Howard St., through Aug. 9. Call 539-7900.
The 1991 alumni exhibit "Observances: Photographs by Herman Emmet '75 and Jan Staller '75" runs through June 30 in the Meyerhoff Gallery of the Fox Building at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Call 225-2300.