In Baltimore, at least in some circles, it's a high compliment to be compared to Raoul Middleman, especially if you're a 22-year-old artist having your first important show and Middleman was one of your instructors at the Maryland Institute. I'm guessing Tony Shore appreciated that I noticed Middleman's style -- like it was so hard -- throughout Shore's "Bawlmer Portraits" (acrylic on black velvet) at Gallery M, 1000 Hollins St. And just as soon as I made the comparison, Shore was pointing the way to a portrait of Middleman hanging in the rear of the gallery.
Shore's faces -- the gnarly, the hairy, the veiny, the deliciously twisted and grotesque -- smile out from the black velvet, and the effect is that of stepping into an honest Baltimore bar, one of the real neighborhood joints.
Skeeter's, on Washington Boulevard near Harman Avenue, is where Shore found most of his subjects. He grew up near there.
So he knows the dart-league guys -- Charlie, Kev and The Bear. He knows Ray and Rachel, one of the barmaids. He knows Della, Vincent and Mary. He's even familiar with the fetching but nameless lady sitting at the bar. "I call her Sex Kitten," Shore says, "because every time she gets up to walk through the bar, the other people make meow noises."
Another nameless subject, also a bar figure, turned out to be "69" because that's what the barmaids call him. "Because that's his drink, whatever it is, a No. 69 on the drink chart," Shore says. His signature piece -- as simultaneously garish, comic and real as the rest -- is a splendid portrait of a happy guy in a Saturday-night tuxedo; his name is Johnny, and he's well-known around Hollins Market. When he waves and says, "Hi, buddy," it comes out, "Hey, bawdy."
Shore imitates Johnny that way, but he doesn't make fun of him, and that's an important distinction. Shore's attitude does not come out of some phony celebration-of-the-common-man blue-collar chic. Calling his work urban realism is maybe too lofty. It's what the kid knows, and he obviously knows it well. His show is at Gallery M until April 24.
Call of the Irish
I got a friendly Irish nudge to go to J. Patrick's, on Andre Street, just a block from Fort Avenue in Locust Point. The place was sleepy when I showed up, about 8 o'clock. But soon there was a happy gathering like you wish you'd see in every neighborhood pub every night of the week. First Peter Fitzgerald, 10 years away from County Meath, sat down with a banjo. Then a pretty lass and a boy pulled up with fiddles. And there was a long, tall splinter of a man with a uilleann pipe. Guitars arrived, and more fiddles, a flute and a couple of pipes, bohdrans, a concertina. And the crowd grew each moment. A fine gathering. Every week, J. Patrick's offers a good amount of Irish music. (Rigadoo is the house band.) But Peter Fitzgerald plays magnet to the city's walk-on Irish musicians the first Thursday of each month. Make a note on your calendar.
A real feast
Getting stuck at a lunch counter next to a customer with body odor, a bad cough and a burning cigarette in his fingers -- hey, you can't blame the owners of a diner for that. (Except for the cigarette factor; that's something a restaurateur mostly definitely can control.) Despite the logistical problems -- boy, did that guy need a bath -- I enjoyed my first trip to the new PaperMoon Diner, on West 29th Street, site of the old Open House. (Hey, everyone else is reviewing this place, why shouldn't I?) I had a great meal during a busy noon hour. The chicken-vegetable soup was very tasty -- kinda herbal, know what I mean? -- and the turkey powerhouse sandwich with honey-mustard was delicious, served on bread of quality. It was fun watching the manic workers at the grill. The fabulous lunch counter looks like the result of a graduate project at the Institute, and the whole place, including a dining room in the rear, is decorated in a style that might be called deco-Technicolor-funkhouse. It's a feast for the eyes as well as your palate. (Kinda like Haussner's, only different, know what I mean?) Service was good. Jukebox excellent -- we heard Sinatra and UB40 during lunch. PaperMoon is open 168 hours per week.
Unstressing a cat
If you happen to be waiting in line at the checkout, check out that oh-so-credible supermarket rag, Sun. (Not The Sun; the tabloid's official name does not include the definite article.) Everyone likes local-boy-makes-it-big stories, and you can find one on Baltimore's own Mike Gabriel in the April 12 edition. Not just a little mention either. We're talking FULL-PAGE SPREAD!! There's a picture of Mike in a turban -- he looks like Tiny Tim -- along with a story about his work in the field of cat yoga. You got it. Cat yoga. Mike says he has modernized this "ancient art" and considers himself the "father of modern American Cat Yoga." He says he spent eight years in Asia learning the craft from the masters, and now teaches classes and gives private lessons to pets and their owners in and around Baltimore. He's also working on an illustrated book on the subject. Mike claims -- and this is the part I find hard to believe; my cat never did anything but sleep and eat -- that cats experience stress just as humans do. Cats, therefore, can benefit from their own form of yoga. Mike claims 58 positions can help your whacked-out feline become oh-so mellow.
How does Mike measure his success? Hairball reduction. Fewer hairballs, less cat stress. It's as simple as that.