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Collages of paper treat serious themes with delight


There's no telling how art will reach the individual viewer, something this individual viewer was reminded of by the current exhibit at Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery, "Seeking through the Medium of Paper: Works by E. H. Sorrells-Adewale."

One of the strengths of this gallery's programming is the essays exhibitions director Helen Glazer writes to accompany the shows there.

Mrs. Glazer's essays always throw light on the art at hand, and the current one is no exception.

Mr. Sorrells-Adewale's collage works of paper and other materials contain a rich iconography drawn from Western, African and Afro-Brazilian art.

He uses what Ms. Glazer calls "a set of symbols" to reach "other levels of meaning in existence." For instance, as Glazer explains, ladders represent "spiritual growth"; blueprints stand for the ordering impulse of the Western mind, hands stand for ritual healing, birds for wisdom and so forth.

As interesting as these concepts can be, however, they are not what I respond to in Mr. Sorrells-Adewale's works. What I respond to is summed up by Ms. Glazer when she writes , "Above all, this work is expansive and joyous, delighting the eye while treating serious themes." To me, it is precisely this delight to the eye that makes this artist's work -- well, work.

Take "Mr. Pryor's Acquaintance, Miz Rudolph," an installation-size wall piece made specifically for this exhibit. Composed of all sorts of materials from blueprints and colored paper dotted with holes to a doll carrying a rosary and an animal skull with shells in its eye sockets, the work is positively loaded down with symbolism.

There are snakes, birds, eyes, and the repeated word ache (with an accent over the e and pronounced ah-shay), which a label explains means "the power to make things happen."

What this all adds up to in terms of meaning is way beyond me, but not the piece's lyrical and surprisingly soothing visual presence. A much smaller piece, "Child of Ori Inu," is even lovelier, embodying the same lyricism but in a more ordered and concentrated way.

"Osiris," attached to a post in the center of the gallery, has the form of an immense snake, but not a threatening one -- its undulations suggest the flow of melodic music. And "Eleven," consisting of that number of strips of paper arranged on the wall in groups of four, two and five, has the elegance of simplicity.

Of course, all the symbols that Mr. Sorrells-Adewale puts into his work have to do with their visual presence. But it is just exactly that visual presence, rather than the content of these works, that to me is their most important aspect.

The show continues through Feb. 28 at the Rosenberg Gallery of Goucher College, Dulaney Valley Road. Call (410) 337-6333.

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