In making his fine paintings on display at Grimaldis, Karl Connolly creates illusion but gives us the tools to see through it. Then, if we want, he allows us to have illusion back again.
Connolly creates paintings that are naturalistic looking, then shows you that they are not at all what they seem. "Bidoing" is a good example. Kneeling upon a rocky landscape in front of a stormy sky, a nude man in the process of dropping marbles into a metal drum turns to look, as if suddenly startled by the presence of the viewer. (The name of the painting comes from the sound the marble makes when it hits the metal).
As we look at the painting, we begin to realize the artist has provided us with clues that break down the illusion that we are seeing something real. Chief among them is the light. A strong light -- sunlight, of course, since we're outdoors -- shines on the figure from behind and above the viewer. Yet the sky that we see is dark with storm clouds; no sun would shine through those clouds. Then, down at the lower left, we notice a sunset in the far background of the scene; the sun can't be shining from behind us and in front of us at the same time.
This light, we realize, is not real light; it's created by paint. The longer we stare at the painting the more we see paint: The paint that creates light, flesh, metal, rocks. It is all just paint.
This experience happens repeatedly in Connolly's works here -- the light impossibly coming from more than one source, the objects in the painting dissolving into pure paint as you look at them.
If the way Connolly uses paint relates to illusion, the meanings of his works deal with the same subject. On one level, he appears to be making the point that self-importance blinds us to the realities of life -- especially to its ultimate meaninglessness.
The people who inhabit Connolly's narrative paintings, such as "Eggcatcher" and "Bidoing," are living in worlds of illusion, far from reality. So is the emperor without clothes in Connolly's two "Emperor" paintings.
Elsewhere, the two "Sanctuary" paintings also refer to illusions; the closed-in rocky spaces depicted are prisons more than sanctuaries.
"Hat Painting I" refers to a figure in Luca Giordano's painting, "Ecce Homo," at the Walters Art Gallery.
By painting only the hat, Connolly indicates that it's the only thing of substance about the puffed-up figure we see in the other painting.
But Connolly's paintings are not ultimately pessimistic. In the very act of painting, which he does so well, Connolly attests to his hope that going on has its own meaning.
Even in their foolishness, his figures are endowed with a humanity that insists we accept them at face value or risk the destruction of our own illusions. In the end, the paint once more disappears and the painting becomes what it was at first -- a beautiful picture -- and we are safe.
Connolly's work has the strength of its own contradictions.
Mary Page Evans' still lifes, in the rear space at Grimaldis, have a looseness of gesture and a feeling of informality that combine with her sense of color to create appealing works.
What: Recent works by Karl Connolly and Mary Page Evans
Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Oct. 28
$ Call: (410) 539-1080