Strokes of Genius at the MFA Circle Gallery by Anna Fine Foer

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When I arrived at the opening reception for “Strokes of Genius,” the current national juried painting show at Circle Gallery, Maryland Federation of Art in Annapolis, I looked to draw some conclusions about the state of painting in 2012. The paintings had all been selected by Mark Karnes, a MICA painting instructor.

Mark Karnes

The gallery was literally packed with exhibiting artists, their guests, MFA members, and passersby. It was a warm day and lots of folks came out to see paintings, rather than watch another football game on a Sunday afternoon.

The paintings varied from traditional plein-air to abstract, to figurative and nearly everything along that continuum. According to Karnes’ statement and remarks “I tried to pick the best work. Over 500 pieces were entered (actual number was 553, from 191 artists) and I picked 80 (82 paintings from 75 artists). There was a great range in terms of ways of thinking about painting. Some work was taken from life; landscapes, interiors, still lives and figures. Other representational pieces seemed to be sourced from memory, drawing studies, and photographs. Some abstract works alluded to landscapes. I tried to select the best pieces and not have ideas about how a show should look or what it should represent.”

One of the perks of being a blogger is that I have the opportunity to voice my own opinions on the best work in a show, since I rarely agree with the juror about prizes awarded. The painting that spoke to me the most was “Studio Floor, Late Nights” by Samantha Haring. It is a trompe l’oeil representation of art supplies with art historical references, specifically to “A Pamphlet History of the Rump Parliament 1663” by Samuel Van Hoogstraten.

Studio Floor, Late Nights by Samantha Haring

“A Pamphlet History of the Rump Parliament 1663”by Samuel Van Hoogstraten

As for the prizes, Karnes decided not to select a first, second or third, rather he awarded ten “Juror’s Choice” awards. One of the prizes went to David Diaz, for his plein-air painting titled “Cumberland Valley.” I noticed this painting, from afar, as soon as I walked in the gallery and remarked to Diaz “that is a good landscape,” not knowing it was his painting.

Another perk of being a blogger is being able to start conversations with all the artists and not having to rely on the usual suspects to entertain me at an opening. It is so interesting and informative to discover the diversity of artists’ backgrounds and experiences. One artist, Aaron Kramer, is new to the MFA and also an architect. His painting “Peaks I” is a rather abstract painting of snow covered Alps.

There is even a painting by Barry Nemett, the Chair of the MICA painting department. The sky “View from Montecastello with Chimney” is an example of why watercolour is such a great medium.

Ingrid Pimsner is a Critical Studies Masters Degree student at MICA. She paints very small, intimate interiors and her painting “Anna and Alex”was a recipient of a Juror’s Choice award.

Elroy Williams is a mature painter from Gaithersburg who plays the flute and was inspired to paint a detail of the foot joint of his flute while cleaning it.

Lynn Mehta is an accomplished plein-air painter whose painting of a boat on dry dock was a strong example of a Chesapeake Bay scene.

Matt Klos, an accomplished painter, is an instructor at Anne Arundel Community College. His “Fort Howard I” was a juror’s choice.

Rosemary Liss is newcomer to the MFA who lives and paints in Charles Village and did not graduate from MICA (yes, such a creature exists). Rosemary studied art at Wheaton College and her painting “The Senator Theatre” was part of her thesis work, concentrating on images of movie theatres in Baltimore as a means to document the exodus from the inner-city to the suburbs, post ’68 riots.

A decorative painting that caught my eye was “Study 18” by John Lynn Paul, from Ithaca, NY. The patterns remind me of Kandinsky or Klee but the colours are from another era.

One more example of the diversity of artists experience and training is the painting “Duet in Blue and Orange” by Fern Beu. She is a psycho-therapist who has been learning with a private instructor; Abigail McBride for many years. She is working to develop her skills and having a painting selected for a national show for the first time is encouraging.

All in all, there are many good paintings to see and I urge you to do so. There is no singular message, nothing that will leave you guessing, just that painting is alive and well.

The next national, juried show at the MFA Gallery is “Art on Paper” with a submission deadline on 23 January, 2013. For more info, go to:

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