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Book exhibit is a real page-turner; Art pieces explore nontraditional themes in Carroll gallery


The idea of a book as an art form is one of the features of the exhibit "For the Love of Books" at Carroll County Arts Council in Westminster.

The exhibit is a combination of illustrations, framed poems and individual book art pieces. What is most visibly intriguing in this presentation, which includes more than 30 artworks, are the sculptural book renditions by Larry Thomas.

Nontraditional art methods are explored in several of the book/artworks created by Thomas. In "Deceased Pet Care," Thomas, of Atlanta, has created a smallish pop-up book that appears poised upon its podium.

Collage images of pink-cheeked children at play in their rural surroundings abound. The thought that the book's theme is about frolicking children and animals is immediately dispelled. Such ideas as pet cemeteries and a cremation price list are combined with flat and sometimes stenciled protruding animals. Together, this pop-up assemblage of words and pictures suggests the hypocrisy of meat-eating pet owners.

Most of the gallery wall space is dominated by the original illustrations and poems that are the contents of the book, "For the Love of God." This book is a collaborative effort by Westminster poet Dinah Cottrell and New Windsor illustrator Kathy Mulhern.

They represent the book theme through fairy tale landscapes filled with chirping birds and trees.

These gilt-framed works are reminiscent of Hallmark cards and posters of the 1970s. Nothing, it seems, is too unusual in these pictures and poetic statements. It is interesting to note that though these works are the most visible, they do not command the viewer's attention as do the smaller books by Thomas.

Thomas, an associate professor of art at Georgia State University, describes, in his artist's statement, his philosophies regarding bookmaking.

"A book will tell you secrets and it will keep yours. Go tell the computer acolytes that a book, too, is information," he wrote. "But a book is also a thing to keep. See it. Yes, read it. Touch it!"

What creates the visual attraction behind his art can be seen in works such as "Male Gaze/Male Gaze (Corrected Vision)." Here, between two boxlike covers is an unfolding matte-board screen. The grandiose burnt sienna typeface reads like poetry.

The book covers also create a shadow box effect that is evocative of some DaDa artists of the 1920s.

The nudity and sexual imagery that are contained in these book cover boxes, which almost resemble tiny stage settings, are not there for shock value. Rather, these pin-up portraits are used, it seems, to make statements about gender ideals and the view of women in our culture.

One image is displayed, arms raised and topless, standing clutching a collage tree image. Her gaze directs the viewer to a small plastic pink pig, inserted, steadfastly attached to the upper corner of the modestly crafted book stage.

Her exposed upper body is not immediately visible. It is concealed, almost covered, by Groucho Marx-type glasses and nose. Connected to the shallow square enclosure, these spectacles are a prevailing presence, though they share the bottom half of the pictorial space with two plastic male heads affixed to a cartonlike floor.

The material, which forms the backdrop behind the women, focuses our attention on more little plastic pigs. Above the bent, upraised arms of the nymphet, the animals hover.

The humor is apparent as Thomas focuses on buxom women to show the "piggishness" of gawking men.

This show was developed to coincide with National Libraries Month. The "book as theme" is the only factor that is shared by "For the Love of God" and Thomas' book art.

Perhaps because of the lack of common ground between the two, their juxtaposition in the gallery is, at times, distracting.

But the arts council offers an exhibit with variety because of two distinct approaches to art.

"For the Love of Books" continues through Friday at Carroll County Arts Council, 15 E. Main St., in the lower level of Winchester Exchange Building. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Information: 410-848-7272.

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