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Great Effects

Exceptional Show of Local Women Artists Continues Locust Point Gallery's Solid Exhibition Streak

COLLAGE DAYS: Cara Ober’s “Carrier” is among the highlights of Femme Effect II.

By J. Bowers | Posted 4/5/2006

Femme Effect II

At Gallery Imperato through April 15

Despite the ridiculous name, Femme Effect II should represent the start of something very promising at Gallery Imperato, the office-cum-exhibit space that has spent the past year establishing itself as a reliable source for quality, cutting-edge work by emerging local artists. For a while now, Sub-Basement Art Studios, quite possibly the best-kept secret in Baltimore’s contemporary art scene, has been a similar—if grittier—venue, showcasing a wide range of wildly inventive art, including works by Imperato curator/MICA graduate Jordan Faye Block in its Femme Effect exhibit earlier this year.

It might be jumping the gun to hope that Effect II heralds the beginning of an ongoing partnership between these two go-to galleries, but this coattail-riding assembly of five up-and-coming female talents is a damn strong show.

The lion’s share of Imperato’s sprawling space goes to Cara Ober, a young Maryland Institute College of Art graduate (and former City Paper contributor) who has continued to grow and evolve artistically over the past three years while remaining true to her own unique, collage-esque style. Ober first impressed at warehouse shows last year, where her freewheeling, wallpaper-influenced collage canvases and cooperative work with fellow young painter Julie Benoit stole the show from a host of male artists.

Since then, Ober has taken her craft to the next level. She paints from the heart and the hip, imbuing her works with equal measures of memory and sexual tension. While maintaining her tendency to toss together crayon doodles, wallpaper swatches, elegant gold fleur-de-lis patterns, drawings of birds and flowers, and snatches of text, Ober has given herself free rein to experiment. These newer works, completed over the past year, exhibit a willingness to accept her uncanny ability to make completely disparate elements look somehow interrelated. Facsimiles of dictionary definitions, airplanes, and neon yellow flowers have augmented her calligraphic doodle style, and the pieces have become even more enigmatic and dreamlike.

Often Ober’s lowercase cursive textual elements betray a sly wit: The sublime “Salvation” features the legend “evangelist: maybe you need your pain to accomplish what you do.” Ober divides her attention between monumental canvases like “Salvation,” richly coated with layers of paint and collage, and smaller works on paper. Here, the “Meshuggeneh Series,” a collection of 12-by-12-inch collages, comes on like a giddier, more girlish version of British artist Stanley Donwood, juxtaposing traditionally “male” images (cowboys, football and baseball players) with cute, “female” stereotypes (glittery decoupage birds, hearts, bunnies, images of women doing housework). There’s nothing terribly deep or earthmoving about Ober’s work, but its visual appeal is undeniable.

A similar description applies to Melissa Dickenson’s paint and graphite images of bizarrely elongated rabbits, hamsters, and tulips. Rendered in slate blue, pale yellow, and rose, her whimsical creatures look as though they’d be right at home in a children’s book or on the walls of a nursery—pleasant and skillful, decidedly unusual, but not mind-blowing.

Jewelry maker Lauren Schott offers two vitrines of new wearable work. Schott is particularly inspired by the interactions and contrasts between the metals that form the basis of her pieces and the precious jewels that highlight and balance straightforward gold and silver. Employing roseate Italian branch coral, Chinese freshwater pearls, yellow diamonds, rain forest jasper, and other exotic, expensive materials, Schott’s work is best when at its most extravagant. “Winters Lament,” an opulent 18-karat gold necklace adorned with fluid, grapelike clusters of gray South Sea Keshi pearls, is fit for a queen. “Cobblestones,” a platinum ring encrusted with alluvial uncut diamonds and faceted colored diamonds, glows like a living thing. It’s refreshing to see handmade jewelry presented in a gallery setting—the only real cause for complaint is a lack of adequate lighting to show off the gems.

Unfortunately marginalized by the magnetic draw of Schott’s work and the abundance of Ober’s new pieces, painters Valerie Fischler and Dana Reifler round out the show. Inspired by meditation and Buddhism, Fischler’s nonobjective paintings are minimalist, with heavy, almost claylike application of layers of oil paint. Focusing on color and texture, Fischler scrapes and molds her still-wet canvases. Her best works, which include the faintly horizonlike “Landscape” and “Dusk,” hint at Mark Rothko, and her less compelling pieces still possess a quiet beauty. By contrast, Reifler’s busy, primarily black-and-white works focus on the intersection between natural and mechanical imagery. Fashioned from oil and ink on cut paper with occasional collage elements, and pinned to their white backdrops, works like “Cue Stem” and “Innervated, Folding, Faulting” simultaneously reference organisms and machinery. Her three-dimensional paper constructs are far more successful than her straightforward paintings, but, alas, Femme Effect II contains more of the latter.

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