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The Arts

Waking Life Painting

Baltimore County Artist Group Mounts Its Debut Show

HOLD STILL: Errol Roberts' "Nia."

By J. Bowers | Posted 5/16/2007

Towson Artists Group Show

At Towson Framing Gallery through June 30

A good nude is hard to find. Sure, it's reasonably easy to persuade someone to disrobe, but even if an artist's friends and loved ones are willing to go the full monty in the name of art, they'll soon find that it takes exceptional patience to remain frozen in place for hours on end. Life painting is one of art's most time-honored traditions, though, and there will always be a stream of aspiring Renoirs and Vermeers eager to give it a shot.

For the past year, the Towson Artists Group, operating out of the surprisingly cavernous Towson Framing Gallery basement, has provided local artists with extended opportunities to work from live models. Meeting for three hours every Tuesday night at $8 per session, the group gives its members a chance to spend nine hours painting or drawing a live model, with a new model every three weeks.

As a result, the group's first anniversary show offers you a chance to see the same models painted in a diverse range of personal styles. It's more intriguing than it sounds. Various interpretations of one person's nine-hour pose allows you to piece together a far richer idea of what that person truly looks like in real life, and the group's styles vary enough to maintain interest throughout the exhibit.

Hung to advantage on a bright red wall, John E.C.'s monochromatic nudes are sketched with thin black lines, presented on burnished fields of bronze, gold, and dirty silver. Almost sculptural in composition, his subjects' rounded hips owe more than a little to classical studies of the human form. Still, there's an undeniable sense of modernity surrounding his untitled works--most likely due to his judicious use of angular, crosshatched lines, which stand in for shadows.

While John E.C. appears more occupied with the study of the human form as an object, the majority of the artists in the show are invested in the über-specific art of character study. Andy Holzopfel's "Mohawk" is a detail-faithful rendering of a Rubenesque punk-rock chick, her blue hair a bold coxcomb on her shaven head. There are numerous variations on a mysterious brunette called "Rebecca," including Sandra Getlein's lovely like-titled homage to Matisse. The model appears calm and kind in Getlein's painting, the welcome flip side of Holzopfel's "Rebecca #2," which stares at the viewer with stern, chilly eyes.

Rebecca Cason's whimsical interpretations frequently place her nude subjects on fields of rich, jewel-like color, transforming them into something more than a naked person posing in a studio. "Luna" is a woman floating among stylized moons, their soft curves echoing her hips and breasts. In "Morning Dream of Flowers," an overarching semicircle frames a reclining nude in a bower of blooms. All very safe and unchallenging, but beautiful to look at.

Errol Roberts' shoulders-up portraits would look right at home in a 19th-century British estate. Like John E.C., Roberts focuses on the timelessness of the naked figure--free of clothing, makeup, or other defining clues to place or era, he concentrates on the form itself. In "Nia," a portrait of a black woman wearing a turban, elaborate costume earrings are the only concession to modernity. "Rebecca" is transformed into a European noblewoman startled at her repose.

Joanna Barnum, the show's sole watercolorist, uses her life-painting sessions as a springboard to create her own mythologically inspired nudes. The paintings done with the Towson Artists Group are lumped under the bland title "Life Paintings," while "Hecate" is an iconic image of the three-faced Greek goddess, clutching her symbolic sword, torch, and key. "Hypnos and Thanatos" could veer into Dungeons and Dragons territory, but instead it is an impressively detailed tableau of death and sleep, accompanied by horse, wolf, and snake heads.

Though heavy on life drawing and painting, this exhibit features a smattering of landscapes, still lifes, and visions of a more personal nature. The aforementioned Getlein's landscapes are markedly less successful than her live-model work. Her daubed-on trees have an unfortunate Bob Ross/paint-by-number quality.

Gil Jawetz, clearly a jazz fan, offers oil portraits of Louis Armstrong and a brass band jamming in "Preservation Hall," but his candid paintings of his dog and goldfish possess a genuine warmth and realism not seen in his other works. "Pete and Edgar" is an overhead shot of a white dog lying on the floor. His eyes are liquid, and his belly is shaded with the barest hint of blue, lending the image a slightly fantastic quality. On a nearby table, the goldfish is an orange blur inside his extremely convincing glass bowl. The fish's solo turn, "Edgar," is a tiny yet charming portrait, the fish's tail captured midstroke with adeptly smudged paint.

Despite a 14-artist roster, the Towson Artists Group show does not feel overcrowded or boxed-in, though the canvases are squeezed into a comparatively small exhibition space. The work is of varying quality, but the endless variations on identical models conjure up visions of Parisian life-drawing salons and classic portraiture.

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