Braille adds meaning to French's abstractions


Christopher French's paintings don't read well, but they look well.

French, on of three artists in School 33's current main gallery art show, combines texts written in Braille with abstract painting. The texts come from writers such as Diderot and Goethe and deal with abstract, somewhat philosophical ideas (perfection demands concealment, for example).

All of this sounds pretentious on paper, but when one encounters the paintings, they make a great deal of sense. For one thing, they're beautiful. French superimposes the Braille texts in various patterns on top of undulating swirls of neutral-colored paint (brown or gray) with sometimes another level of patterning as well.

In "Throughout Nature," the text in white, on top of gray swirls, spirals out from the center in the top half of the painting, then reverses itself and spirals inward in the bottom half. The resulting reverse S pattern works as a visual counterpoint to the swirls.

It suggests the counterpoint between the world of visual sensation and the world of language. Goethe's text, rendered in Braille, speaks of the relationship between man and nature, which is appropriate since nature does not have language and Braille is for people who cannot see.

Those of us endowed with both language and sight rarely stop to think how fortunate we are. This painting makes the point in an indirect way, and all French's paintings here invite quiet contemplation.

French is the show's best artist. Ann Rentschler creates abstract paintings of lines and bands of color, horizontal and vertical. She achieves subtlety in the relationships among colors and between horizontals and verticals, but ultimately, most of these works add up to less than the sum of their carefully crafted parts.

In one painting, however, Rentschler introduces four colors -- blue, red, yellow and white, more than usual for her -- and allows drips to provide some of the verticals.

The result is a richer, more varied image that proves Rentschler's method can produce a really satisfying painting.

Alan Rutberg's installation "One Face" explores the subject of his father in a dozen photographs and a half-hour video. Talk about a work adding up to less than the sum of its parts! Rutberg's sloppy video and pointless group of photographs look like something slapped together in a hurried, undisciplined fashion. It communicates far too little about the artist's father, but it does an even greater disservice to the artist himself, a faculty member at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who must be better than this work indicates.

At School 33

What: Works by Christopher French, Ann Rentschler and Alan Rutberg

Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through May 23

Call: 410-396-4641

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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