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Ruth Pettus and Michela Caudill: Terra Incognito/Terra Cognito

THE GOOD EARTH: Michela Caudill's "Quirpon Island."

By J. Bowers | Posted 2/28/2007

Ruth Pettus and Michela Caudill: Terra Incognito/Terra Cognito

At the Gormley Gallery through March 2

Black-and-white landscape fans will only be half-satisfied by the College of Notre Dame's current show, Terra Incognito/Terra Cognito, which juxtaposes new photography by Michela Caudill with ink-on-paper works from Ruth Pettus. At range, it's extremely difficult to discern which pictures are photographs and which are drawings, but a closer examination of the work reveals a staggeringly uneven show.

On the far wall, Caudill's stark, evocative images beautifully capture the sparsely inhabited environs of Quirpon Island, located in the northernmost part of Newfoundland, Canada. Quirpon Island is a remote landscape unsullied by roads, TV antennas, telephones, and other signs of human life. In these 16 untitled gelatin-silver prints, Caudill's haunt reveals itself as a primeval locale, dominated by crashing shorelines, limpid pools, and rolling moors--reminiscent of the southwestern English countryside or Iceland's bleak plains. A sense of stillness and timelessness pervades these photographs; they could have been taken hundreds of years ago or just yesterday afternoon.

Caudill is particularly adept at capturing the textural qualities of fog and shadow. Though similar in composition and identical in shade, each photograph offers a subtly different look at the interplay between rocks, water, and sky. Caudill evokes a sense of exploration without overt tourism, and a sense of place without specificity. Her shots are particularly arresting when a small white house or some other evidence of humanity can be glimpsed through the fog, drawing your eye into the farthest reaches of the image.

Pettus' "Horizon" series of minimalist ink-on-paper "landscapes" comes off as an artistic experiment taken to unnecessary lengths. Inspired by horizon lines, she creates abstract washes of ink on white paper that look like, well, lines of ink on white paper. While there's something to be said for erasing all signs of the artist's handiwork, Pettus' drawings look as though they could be created by anyone with vaguely Eastern leanings and some sumi ink to spare. You get the feeling that Pettus was striving for abstract minimalism here, but the resultant drawings are repetitive and visually unappealing. In light of the staggering originality and tactile power of her earlier sculptural works--most notably "Promenade," a series of dilapidated shoes dipped in wax--and the texturally rich acrylic landscapes that she has exhibited around the area in recent years, Pettus' "Horizon" series is disappointing at best and leaves you longing for a return to form from this longtime fixture of the Baltimore art scene.

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