In Megan Hildebrandt's amusing painting of Mary Pickersgill, the famed flag-maker stares wryly as she sews the Stars and Stripes. C. Lee's affectionate photograph of his late mother hangs beside it. It is an odd juxtaposition: the humorous Pickersgill next to the tender, loving parent.
Such juxtapositions are common at the Creative Alliance's The Big Show. The show, which opens tomorrow, provides a forum solely for members' artwork, an "in-house" celebration of art.
"I think that we want, as an organization, to just present the kind of collected creativity of our members and the artists of Baltimore in the best possible manner, so we hang the art and show it in its best light," said Creative Alliance artistic director Jed Dodds.
Displaying the work of nearly 200 artists in the Patterson's main gallery is complicated; because of space constraints, artists can submit only one work. And each artist has a signature style, so Dodds must resolve the incongruity of such varied artworks to create a fluid exhibit. When hanging art, he focuses on the subtle similarities, like tone or mood, that surface between two seemingly different works.
"It's always really fun and exciting to see the connections that emerge between artists, and the conversations that emerge between artwork," Dodds said. "I usually look for connections that go beyond the obvious and find points of contact beyond the superficial. Look beyond just putting all the still lifes together and so on."
Whatever members display, Dodds will hang. It promotes a very open, appealing atmosphere for artists, what Dodds calls "unfettered creativity."
Many artists present new works. Artist Renee Tantillo will debut Still Searching, a found-object figure made of tools and metal that she completed shortly before the show's June 14 submission deadline. Dodds thinks Tantillo's work is a highlight of the exhibition.
For Kini Collins, a Big Show founder who this year will display her painting Empty Bowl, the exhibit revisits the roots of art.
"It honors art-making as a process, rather than art-selling as a commodity," Collins said.
When the Creative Alliance was formed in 1995, members aspired to build community ties by supporting and encouraging diversity and creation. The Alliance soon established The Big Show, where people could appreciate the art and artists in their neighborhood.
"It's like a family reunion. I see people that I haven't seen in a long time," Collins said.
John Ellsberry, who contributed the stained-glass mosaic Reggie, agreed. As an artist, he said, having other people view his work is paramount. The Big Show provides such exposure.
"Since there's so many people involved with it, there's a big turnout, which is pretty important. I mean if you put your art somewhere, you want people to see it," he said.
Artist Daniel Van Allen, who is contributing his paint-by-numbers image Corkscrew Wings, has another perspective on the show. He stressed that the unjuried exhibition creates an atmosphere in which creativity garners attention, not commerciality.
"Places like the Creative Alliance are important," Van Allen said, "because they will show things that are not sellable, and that's some of the most important art of our time."
"The Big Show" opens tomorrow and runs through July 26. Tomorrow's opening reception, featuring music from The Garnet Hearts, begins at 7 p.m. The exhibit is at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave. The exhibition is free; the reception is free to members, $5 for nonmembers. Call 410-276-1651 or go to creativealliance.org.
Read The Sun's arts blog at baltimoresun.com/criticalmass