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Mixed Media

At the Angelfall Record Label/Café/Gallery, Different Disciplines Mingle Comfortably

Not so fresh feeling: Christine Ferrera's "personal advertisements" are damning, darkly funny explorations of consumer culture.

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 1/8/2003

Group Show

Angelfall Studios through Jan. 13

At Angelfall Studios' fourth group show since opening last October, the former supermarket headquarters is filled to impressive effect, exhibiting a diverse selection of work in a surprisingly sumptuous setting. Hidden in Remington, the extensively renovated building has been transformed into a sparkling art gallery, tapas café, and soon-to-come wine bar.

But running an art gallery was not on Steve Archer's set list when he first started this project. He and his wife, Donna Lynch, had originally approached local oil and gas supplier J. Hollis Albert two years ago for help in forming a record label. The idea was to create an indie imprint that would put out albums for the couple's dark-rock dance bands Ego Likeness and the Trinity Project. Albert agreed to help finance his friends' venture but gave them more than they bargained for; he challenged the pair to combine the label business offices with a multiuse facility: art gallery, recording studio, and café.

Himself a self-taught painter, Archer felt equipped for the task and has applied an egalitarian philosophy to his newfound curatorial duties: "We don't care if they're trained or self-taught, old or young. We hang what we like."

The current show reflects that attitude, pairing, for example, established sculptor Charles Winkler with emerging painter Zachary Thornton. Among the work by the seven artists represented are journalistic photographs from war-torn Kosovo, nature photography from Africa, landscape paintings, collage, figurative sculpture, and a whimsical series of hand-cut paper snowflakes. While the only connection between the artists seems to be a high degree of technical and aesthetic achievement, the size of the exhibition space--about 3,000 square feet of floor space--allows each artist to be represented by a large number of works, comfortably separated, so the effect is more of being in a museum than a neighborhood gallery.

Here the most compelling pieces are Christine Ferrera's 30 small "personal advertisements," painted mock-ups of Middle Eastern newspaper ads for personal hygiene and cosmetic products. Most of them feature recurring elements: an illustration of a woman (perhaps a stand-in for the artist); an image of the tube, bottle, or bar being advertised; and sales copy in English and Arabic.

Ferrera paints in vivid, unnatural colors, superimposing artificial hues on her subjects (blond hair on dark-skinned women, for example) in the same way that consumer culture often imposes its beauty standards on its subordinates. That the slogans are written in broken English--familiar to anyone who has visited the non-English-speaking world--further emphasizes the misleading power of consumer advertising.

Ferrera also creates ironic tension by infusing sexual, racial, and political currents into these messages: In one work, a semi-reclining woman in provocative red dress poses in front of a tube labeled feel real with the slogan cock smart! emblazoned underneath. In another piece, a grinning model proudly holds up a dispenser of some kind of cosmetic powder, framed by the phrase be a bomb! Individually, each of Ferrera's collages is carefully composed and beautifully rendered; taken together, they are a damning and darkly humorous exploration of how advertisements articulate subversive messages about both purveyors and purchasers.

In contrast to this socially attuned work, the two other painters in the show depict pastoral landscapes. Michael Kronner's farm and small-town street scenes, quick and rough in their production, effectively convey the dimensions of time by evoking shifting light and changing color in otherwise unremarkable scenes.

Zachary Thornton's smaller studies of suburban subjects--simple houses, trees, parks--are lovingly detailed studies of the poignant geometry of a sagging roof or the shimmering cloud of color crowning an autumn tree. Even more affecting are the two larger portraits that accompany the landscapes. In "Me and an Old Lamp," Thornton, a recent Maryland Institute College of Art graduate and high-school art teacher, demonstrates a real sensitivity for self-portraiture, beautifully capturing the fragility of the human subject caught between the pose of examiner and examined.

You don't often see straight nature photography in an art gallery, so Greg Downing's gorgeous images of African wildlife and exotic American birds are as rare a treat as the animals they depict. In "Zebras and Acacia Trees" the striped animals are captured in such rich color that their stripes seem to glow right off the paper, and the thick cloud of birds in "Snow Geese" seem to melt into a cerulean sky, appearing more like water than wildlife.

Travel mementos of a different sort, Tilghman Pitts' photographs of destitute children and the elderly were taken when the artist, a former Wall Streeter, traveled through Kosovo and Bosnia while serving as a trustee for Save the Children, an international charity. Pitts' extreme close-ups show aged faces that are sunken, dazed and worn by time; their eyes avoid the camera. But in stark contrast, in one of his youth portraits, a toddler squints directly into Pitts' lens, holding up two smooth fingers in the victory sign. The photos serve as haunting reminders of who gets left behind when the business of war moves to new ground.

Longtime observers of Baltimore art will be familiar with Charles Winkler's welded-steel creations. From his East Baltimore workshop, Winkler applies skills gleaned from a lifetime of body-shop artisanship into welding fantastical creations: massive scarabs, unearthly masks, and abstract sculpture resembling twisted weaponry. In this show he tones down both scale and sentiment, presenting a series of small cloaked figures, either monks or peasants, whose wonderfully detailed hands and gowns of dripping steel evoke a spiritual serenity.

Finally, in a light touch of seasonal whimsy, Sarah Berger's hand-cut paper snowflakes hang in the Angelfall Studios windows. Considerably more intricate and interesting than the ones you cut in grade school, Berger's crystals are laminated, so they won't melt when the sun finally comes out again.

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