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Primal Theme

Naturalistic Touches Give Burch's Sculpture a Blunt Elegance

A detail of G. David Burch's 1998 bronze-and-granite sculpture "Erato"
"Erato" (detail), 1998
"Oracle II," 1991

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 8/8/2001

Sculpture by G. David Burch, paintings by Will Corr

Maryland Federation of Art City Gallery through Aug. 25

You can make primal connections between G. David Burch's granite-and-bronze sculptures and Will Corr's paintings, which share space at a civilized address--330 N. Charles St., the downtown home of the new Maryland Federation of Art City Gallery. The gallery, sibling to the nonprofit federation's existing space in Annapolis, opened earlier this summer.

Burch's sculptures marry gray-green granite chunks that evoke raw nature and cast-bronze sections that reveal evidence of artistic shaping. It's a happy merger, with the bronze wrapping around, rising above, and otherwise cohabiting with the stone. The effect is bluntly elegant in such sculptures as "Gorgon," in which a squat granite base supports an upright bronze sheet whose thinness and curving shape resemble a human trunk.

The artist can be quite literal-minded in the way he places one material atop the other. The alternating sections of bronze and rock in "Erato" make it look like a lofty sandwich. A circle of stones surrounds the tall construction, declaring a zone, if you will, around the floor-mounted sculpture. Some of Burch's pedestal-mounted sculptures also push boundaries outward by extending down the sides of their pedestals. This technique is potentially interesting but seems like a tentative move on the artist's part.

There's nothing tentative about another of Burch's sculptural tactics. In such sculptures as "Kalypso II" and "Krataiis," pieces of granite are suspended from bronze hooks. It's quite a feat of engineering, with presumably heavy rocks suspended in the air without stressing the granite and bronze constructions that rise up to support them.

If some of the sculptures succeed simply as meetings of bronze and granite and others succeed as balancing acts, yet others work as evocations of human and plant life. In "Oracle II," the cast bronze "skin" wrapped around and extending up from the granite base includes a section of what look like human ribs. The granite-and-bronze base in "Tiresias" supports a lanky bronze stalk topped by a flower that looks like something a dinosaur would sniff.

An astute gallery installation places Burch's primeval "Tiresias" near one of Will Corr's oil paintings, "Quilt," in which a schematically rendered, primitive-looking flowering plant is placed against a dirty-white abstract background. It's the essence of a plant without much by way of detail.

Corr often goes for simple forms rendered with childlike figurative scratches and brusque brushwork. His deliberately crude imagery includes trees and farm buildings. Sparely rendered on large canvases, these images inevitably have an immediate visual impact, yet they don't resonate with whatever meanings and metaphoric associations the artist intended.

It is telling that the tiny trees and large fruit bowl that dominate "Kihei Road" are accompanied by a directional white arrow that isn't pointing to anything. One gets the impression that Corr is still establishing his pictorial vocabulary. Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses. If the schematic figuration has some totemic force in one painting, it is merely hasty in another. Likewise, his paint application has some tactile or coloristic interest in some passages and seems slapped on elsewhere.

The artist, who is studying for his master of fine arts degree at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, does seem capable of making the reductive figuration and equally direct painting work for him. In his most accomplished painting, "Night Sighting of the Pueo," the diptych format plays a considerable role in the compositional strategy. The left panel shows an assertive yet ghostly white birdlike shape flying against an all-black background; the right panel is an all-over dirty-white abstract field. Although the bird lacks detail, it really looks like a bird in flight; your imagination is also free to fly with more metaphorical associations. The contrasts between black and white in the overall composition are simple without being stark. Painterly attention has been given to the range of whites making up the all-white section and the range of blacks making up the all-black section. The artist's evident love of the act of painting comes across quite movingly here, creating a work worth lingering over.

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