At first glance, Osami Tanaka's wood, steel and paraffin sculptures, at Grimaldis, look very much like one another. But take a longer look. Actually, that's part of what they're about: taking a longer look.
They are, superficially, rectangles of wood and paraffin joined by bands of steel. Some are horizontal, some vertical; some sit on steel pedestals, which constitute part of the work. So what else is there to see?
Take two that look virtually identical (all are untitled) and spend a little time with them. You begin to notice subtle differences; the steel bands on one are at top and bottom, while on the other they're below the top and above the bottom. The paraffin column of one is scored with horizontal lines, while the other is smooth. One column is suspended above a base, while the other sits on the floor. And so on.
Discovering such differences would be a pointless exercise if it weren't part of understanding the work, which functions as an invitation to contemplation. Prolonged viewing not only brings out details, but leads to a restful state of mind.
In the abstract, one could say that all art worth looking at is worth spending time with. But some works of art are more conducive to contemplation than others; with Tanaka's pieces it's part of their meaning. And the fact that Tanaka has used industrial materials -- railroad ties, steel bands and bolts -- reminds you of the noise and bustle of the world even as you're getting away from it with these works. That adds another level to their meaning; they reflect and encourage mental discipline in dealing with the world's assaults.
What a pleasure it is to see in the rear gallery at Grimaldis a selection of works by the late Keith Martin, who lived in Baltimore for 35 years until his death in 1983. The two dozen works on view show his talent through a range of media including collage, drawing, painting and watercolor. Martin's works hover between abstraction and surrealism, and are informed with subtlety, wit, charm and a certain air of mystery.
His drawings are equally elegant when the line is loosely drawn, as in "After Matisse," and when it's tightly drawn, as in "Mountain Pass"; when they're traditionally representational, as in "Summertime," and when they're essentially abstract, as in "Angel of the Annunciation."
His watercolor "#32-1976 'Clown' " is a lyric of line and color. His painting "The Furies" is one of the most broodingly forceful works from an artist known for the refinement of his artistic sensibility.
His collages in this show are by and large not among his finest, but one, "#45-1977," is an exception. Up close, it's handsome, but it comes across more as an assemblage of parts than as an entity. From a distance, it becomes a night snow scene, and you can almost feel the clarity of the air. By a touch of Martin magic, it has become transformed.
What: Works by Osami Tanaka and Keith Martin
Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 North Charles St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 1
Call: (410) 539-1080