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Gallery Round-Up: Building and Breaking from Traditions, Three Exhibitions Offer Intimate Material Explorations

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Three new Baltimore exhibitions capture the essence of material inquiries through drawing, collage, painting, and sculpture. The reviews feature Marcel Doucet’s Water Grieves in the Six Shades of Death at Galerie Myrtis, A Sculpture Show at C. Grimaldis Gallery, and Trace Miller’s Pulp Fiction at Goya Contemporary. 

The artworks span the spectrum of abstraction, with some featuring tangible symbols that interweave their narratives. However, a common thread among them is the particularity of materials. The salvaged decorative ironwork, paper pulp, Bianco Focaccia marble, and cast bronze all have significant natural and cultural histories that are brought into the gallery. 

 

Morel Doucet, "Black Maiden in Crown of Flora," 2022 15"H x 12"W x 8.5"D China Porcelain Ceramic, Jewelry by Designer Areeayl Goodwin
Morel Doucet, "Ebony in a Veil of Foliage #2," 2022 15.5 x 13.5 x 9 ″ Porcelain ceramic

Water Grieves in the Six Shades of Death at Galerie Myrtis 

Like a luscious spring field, the gallery is buzzing with the life of Little Haiti, indigenous flora, and migratory birds. Morel Doucet combines alluring colors, forms, and textures in intricate ceramic busts and multi-layered drawings in Water Grieves in the Six Shades of Death at Galerie Myrtis. As I inspect each work, I discover that the underlying tones are not entirely cheerful. Climate change, environmental discrimination, and gentrification are some of the important problems that Doucet tackles. 

The artist builds layers physically through materials and metaphorically through narratives. The deep blue and white ceramic busts portray young Black female figures. Some are adorned by intricate gold jewelry from designer Areeayl Goodwin, depicting domestic items and caged birds, or have ceramic birds perched on their shoulder or flowers in their hair. The artist celebrates matriarchs as an homage to his homeland Haiti, where women hold higher societal power due to the influence of West African matriarchal systems and Haitian Voodoo. 

“Ebony in Veil of Foliage #2” (2022) is a porcelain ceramic bust entirely covered in slip-cast leaves and flowers. Like a nymph, the figure is blooming, tangibly connecting her to the land. I recall a particular scene that I have been mesmerized by in “Annihilation” (a sci-fi film based on Jeff Vandermeer’s book) where one of the scientists turns into a rose bush. Our fragile place within the ecosystem is emphasized through the materials, but there is also an allusion to cycles in nature and one’s passing.  

Morel Doucet, "God Told Me Stars Used to Be Audible Through the Window Sills" (Series), 2023, 70 ft x 62.5 ft (Dimensions Variable) Mixed media on wooden panel (Mylar, Aerosol paint, metal, and indigenous flora patterns)

Elements of Doucet’s work simultaneously reflect on a dystopian present while envisioning a solar punk and afro-futurist future, deeply connected with the Earth. In the wall-hanging works, he combines acrylic, mylar, aerosol paint, and ink to create indigenous flora patterns with decorative ironwork from Little Haiti in Miami, where he currently resides. With ongoing gentrification, these houses are torn down, and the steel rails are discarded. Here, such as in “#4 God Told Me Stars Used to Be Audible Through the Window Sills” they have been salvaged and shielded the figures in a blossoming garden. The pink and purple silhouette feels flattened and misty within the bright green and blue floral patterned background, which suggests a merging with the landscape. These somber portraits partially reclaim ownership and document a moment in history as Doucet uses past inhabitants of Little Haiti as models.

Doucet’s mastery of multiple mediums shines through the breathtaking collection. While it is easy to feel hopeless in the face of environmental degradation, climate change, and developers’ ease of destruction of the urban landscape, the artist also offers hope. Flowers can bloom from the most inopportune places and our intimate entanglement with the landscape must be noticed and cherished. 

Water Grieves in the Six Shades of Death is on view at Galerie Myrtis through July 8, 2023. 

…..

 

"A Sculpture Show," installation view. All images courtesy of the gallery.

A Sculpture Show at C. Grimaldis Gallery 

Biomorphic forms, jagged bronze and stone, alluring marble. These are only some of the materials presented in A Sculpture Show at C. Grimaldis Gallery, which showcases five established sculptors. Jane Manus works with aluminum, John Ruppert with stone and cast metal, Jae Ko with paper, Jon Isherwood with marble, and the late Anthony Carro (1924-2013) with steel and bronze.

Most objects only comprise a single material and are monochromatic, channeling my focus onto the material, the process, and the imagined weight of each work. There is a certain mysticism surrounding their fabrication of the works, and I imagine the cutting, grinding, and hammering noises against the quiet and clean backdrop of the gallery.

I yearn to touch each one. The seemingly simple shapes conceal textures that are irresistibly enticing. Jon Isherwood’s floral forms, meticulously crafted using 3D design and CNC robotics, possess a mesmerizing quality. The floral cups hold a hypnotizing center, and similar to Jae Ko’s rounded paper forms, it pulls me in like a powerful vortex. 

John Ruppert, "Torque: Lightning Strike Series," Jane Manus "Come from Away," John Isherwood "Live in the Sunshine II," Jae Ko, "JK1011 Ultramarine Blue," and John Ruppert "Split: Blast Series" (Left to Right)

In “Living in the Sunshine II” (2020-22), Isherwood utilizes Bardiglio Imperiale marble in an eight-petaled flower. Its formation boasts an intriguing blend of geometry and organic form, with undulating curves that bring to mind the intricate layering of 3D-printed objects. Not only does the artist play with scale, but also the enrapturing detailing of the stone. The sheer combination of these elements leaves me wanting to seek out more of the artist’s sculptures.

Jae Ko opts to use a lighter material: paper. Yet, her sculptures are bursting with tension and equally hold their presence in the gallery. “JK1011 Ultramarine Blue” (2018) hangs in the back room of the gallery, and I feel hypnotized by the circular form. With grooves and indentation rippling through, I’m reminded of tree rings, alluding to the process of layering and the passing of time. 

Natural motifs also appear in John Ruppert’s iron, bronze, and aluminum castings of rocks and trees, some combined with actual rock. “Torque: Lightning Strike Series” (1995) is an aluminum cast of a ruptured piece of wood when lightning struck a tree. The thin strip is standing tall against a wall. As casting is a process of transformation, not only does it capture the metamorphosis of an ephemeral object, but it also pinpoints a moment of extreme energy transformation.

Metal is also an essential element for Anthony Carro and Jane Manus, yet their works are entirely different. While Manus works with aluminum tubes seamlessly cut and welded into gestural linear forms and painted in glossy monochromes, Carro creates a tumultuous composition of bent and “ripped” steel plate, pipe, and rod welded together in “Table Piece CCLVI” (1975). Gesture, form, and balance play crucial roles in these works and their varied aesthetic looks showcase the multitude of possibilities of metal. 

Formalism and the material are privileged in these objects. They are connected through a love of making evident in their presence and craft.

A Sculpture Show is on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery through July 8, 2023. 

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Trace Miller: Pulp Fiction at Goya Contemporary 

What do trees dream of through their winter slumber? These somber giants are filled with a capacity to care for and nurture one another through root systems. These thoughts enter my mind as I peruse Trace Miller’s collages and paintings of trees and forests in his new exhibition, Pulp Fiction, curated by Amy Eva Raehse, at Goya Contemporary. While most works are collaged paper pulp, pushed, formed, and pressed, while other works also include acrylic and oil paint. 

There is a level of abstraction in the works with trees observed, simplified, and reconstructed into thick, rough lines. The linear forms are gestural and flat honing the focus onto the surfaces. I’m intrigued by how the subject matter is also the source of the material, and it feels like a celebration of matter and cycles. After I consider the title of the show more in-depth, I wonder how much it aims to reference the film “Pulp Fiction” (1993), and if so does this add a level of menace? Or does it merely reference pulp magazines, popular during the mid-20th century, that the film’s own title was based upon?

"Paper Forest Series #3," Mixed media collage on paper
"Paper Forest Series #15," Mixed media collage on paper

All of Miller’s scenes seem to capture winter days and stormy nights in the forest, through cool, dark, and gray tones. In the “Paper Forest Series #14” the forest is fractured and reassembled. The edge of the collage is rough. The scene is composed of flattened linear elements ranging in white, muted grey, deep purple, burnt siennas, and bits of yellow. The elements are tightly compressed together in organized chaos. These tones transport me to winter walks through Lake Roland Park where snow crunched under my feet and the landscape silent, but alive.  

Other collages are less tumultuous, and some are even simplified into linear structures of stumps that abruptly are cut at the bottom and top. It is somewhat unclear if these are elements of a dormant or dead forest, and it reminds me of Maya Lin’s “Ghost Forest” in Madison Square Park, where 49 dead cedar trees were installed. All leafless standing in silence. 

Landscape painting has its roots in antiquity when Romans created wall paintings of landscapes and gardenscapes. For a period of time, it was less celebrated, and public perception deemed it a less worthy subject, making it only essential as a backdrop to classical, religious, and mythological scenes. The landscape is alive in its own right in this exhibition. Bustling energy flows through trees, both through the subject matter and the material exploration of the artist.

Artists continue to turn to the landscape inspired by its might and presence, observing its possibility for solitude, and the impact that humans have had on it. Trace Miller’s work is a somber celebration of the vivacity that underlies these slumbering giants. 

Trace Miller: Pulp Fiction is on view at Goya Contemporary with a separate solo exhibit by Howie Lee Weiss through July 29th, 2023.

 

Trace Miller at Goya Contemporary

Images courtesy of the gallery

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