Gallery Round-Up: Crafting Meaning, Three Exhibitions Offer In-Depth Artistic Focus

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Three Baltimore exhibitionswhose initial themes and materials are varied between abstraction, surrealism, and fiber artsare connected through the energized spaces that the works build and each artist’s dedication to their chosen focus. 

I’m thrilled because they represent a broad range of artworks produced today. Mono Practice’s last show was in June 2022 and this one is a stimulating return, presenting a strong group of abstract works. Maryland Art Place has been producing a lot of noteworthy shows, collaborating with off-site spaces, such as Howard Community College, to showcase often underrepresented individuals, while Unit B Gallery, a new space, is a welcome addition to Baltimore’s shrinking gallery scene.


Melissa Staiger, "Reversals," image courtesy of Mono Practice

Resonant Space at Mono Practice 

Mono Practice’s Resonant Space, curated by Patricia Zarate, explores spatial relationships and energy through color and form. The five artists, Jacob Cartwright, Joanne Freeman, Jim Osman, Karen Schifano and Melissa Staigher, use color, rhythm, pattern, and texture to animate and physically move the audience through the space. 

Wood grain and flat fields of color intermingle in Osman’s elaborate, yet simple floor-standing sculptures. He applies both larger blocks and strips of wood to create geometric structures reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. Sometimes the brass hardware is visible or we get a glimpse of the joinery and mechanical brass or steel fasteners revealing the process and the artist’s hand. In “Lark” I’m struck by the variations in the opacity of the paint over the wood, leaving the grain visible underneath the orange paint, suggestive of the organic elements of this ubiquitous building material and its relationship to time and natural forces. 

Jim Osman, image courtesy of Mono Practice
Jim Osman (sculpture) and Joanne Freeman (oil on linen)

Each artist uses abstraction uniquely. Two of Cartwright’s acrylic paintings face Staigher’s installation of fifteen panels. Even though they are roughly 30’ apart they sing with each other and vibrate through the space. While the latter takes music as inspiration, paying particular attention to rhythms and the interaction of colors, the former pushes hues to play with the relationship of foreground and background. Staigher’s organic, biomorphic, and fluid shapes are bands of graduated colors. In “Reversal No. 9” mauve, teal, grass green, and a vibrant yellow are blended into fluid drops over a neon pink background. 

Contrary to the firm outlines in these works, Freeman and Schifano’s paintings feel softer and less defined. Reminiscent of color field painters, broad areas of the raw linen canvas are painted with mostly primary colors in Freeman’s work. I’m jarred by the cacophony in “Squares and Strokes_40”, while “Squares and Strokes_40 (red)” feels more inviting and pleasing even though red comes with an inherent intensity. Schifano opts for pastels and a seed-like shape motif that repeats through her paintings, which feel like an allusion to the landscape and the power of small beings. 

I’m struck by how the works push me around space only through the use of shapes and colors. A dedication to this energy and focus on form connects the artists. Mono Practice’s last show was in 2022 June and this is a fabulous return for them to the local art scene.

Presented artists include Jacob Cartwright, Joanne Freeman, Jim Osman, Karen Schifano, and Melissa Staiger. Resonant Space at Mono Practice closes on Saturday, October 14, with gallery hours Friday and Saturday from 1-4 and by appointment.



Bonner Sale: Troubled Magic at Unit B Gallery 

Bonner Sale’s solo show, Troubled Magic is like a bonbon, a small treasure that you find more and more delight in as you savor. His rich, magical, sometimes psychedelic landscapes transport me to another universe and I revel in the tactility of his imagined world. Unit B Gallery, recently opened in May 2023 and I’m excited by the potential it brings to the Baltimore art scene. 

Sale’s small-scale, intimate paintings draw me in as I walk through the space. While the characters vary in his gouache paintings, they reside in the same universe where they celebrate, battle, and find solace within forests and meadows. The scenes are flattened, but  rich with textures and his use of bold and popping colors is illustrative. Both familiar and strange, these absurd scenes transport me to a fantastical landscape. Soft violet and blue skies contrast with magical and alien fauna, where these strange hybrid beings reside. These characters, often a mix of humanoid and animal features, feel reminiscent of older plastic toy figurines and creatures out of dreams and nightmares. 

“Trouble Magic: Let Us Show You Our Reserve” is one of the larger paintings at 23 x 16 inches. The vertical orientation of the majority of the works suggests story boards and snapshots of a much larger narrative. Here five charactersan anthropomorphic mouse wearing a torn jean bib overall holding a guitar, a humanoid creature with blue skin wearing a purple robe, a yellow sack and large wooden walking stick, an alligator blowing a horn, yeti or a white sasquatch with a tambourine, and another humanoid figure in an indigo robeare dancing around a fort in flames. 

This array of characters feels both absurd and humorous as I try to figure out if they are celebrating or possibly chanting a spell.  All this happens within a clearing in front of a mountainous landscape. There is something different and new in each of Sale’s works, but the richness of this scene is illustrative of all the paintings presented. Often multiple characters are interacting either battling or resting among and near smaller critters. 

Science fiction and surrealist inspired works have been gaining traction in the art world, which I see as a counter against an increasingly dystopian existence with increasing inflation and monotony of the everyday hustle. This larger cultural shift is also visible in new adult animated series such as “Midnight Gospel”. The power of Sale’s surreal images is that I’m immediately elsewhere, no longer grounded within reality. I wish the frame was a literal portal that I could crawl into and investigate further.

Bonner Sale: Trouble Magic is on view at Unit B Gallery until October 22. 



Warp & Weft at Howard Community College

"Warp & Weft" installation view featuring works by Katie O’Keefe, Sasha Baskin, Bonnie Crawford, photo by the author

As I enter Warp & Weft I immediately revel in tactility. The textile objects have an aesthetic allure that draws me in and their softness and familiarity transport me to imagined landscapes. The works of seven female local artists vary between abstract and figurative styles, yet their dedication to craft is a key unifying element. The show was curated by Amy Cavanaugh and Caitlin Gill of Maryland Art Place, stemmed from MAP’s Program Committee wanting to see a show produced surrounding fiber arts through MAP Program Advisory member Steve Silberg who works at Howard County Community College.

Figurative elements occur in Jennifer McBrien, Katie O’Keefe, and Sasha Baskin works. While the former two use embroidery, the latter works with the loom. I’m struck by McBrien’s surreal and pastoral landscapes and portraits of hybrid bird-humans that transport me to an alternate reality. Her intricate linework and collage style embroideries are embedded onto printed fabric of idyll scenes of agriculture and landscapes, which collapses histories, and alludes to the traditional nature of embroidery. 

Jennifer McBrien, "Under the Bushes," 2023, 2023, Freemotion and hand embroidery on cotton, organza and toile decor fabrics, photo by the author
Jennifer McBrien, "Story Time Back at the Ranch," 2023, Freemotion and hand embroidery on cotton, organza and toile decor fabrics, photo by the author

Katie O’Keefe’s large-scale embroideries feel personal, like self-portraits, while Sasha Baskin translates popular culture into a very historical material. Tapestries have been used to depict stories from the Bible, mythology, and classics popular between the 14th and 18th century. Both “Cassie Under Pattern” and “Mary Magdalene (Here for the Rise and the Fall)” are scenes from the reality tv show, The Bachelor. Historically, fiber has been denigrated as “women’s craft”—a double negative in the patriarchal art world. The reality tv shows, which in essence are highly dramatized and strategically edited fabulations have also been geared toward women. I’m intrigued by Baskin’s combination of these elements and how they question the commodification of love.  

Installation view featuring works by Karin Birch (L), Pam Thompson (foreground), and Christine Wolfe Strong (R), photo by the author

My immediate reaction to Christine Wolfe Strong’s “Chimera” is thinking of string figures and games that I played in elementary schools. Donna Harraway references these figures too in “Staying with Trouble,” in which she explores the important metaphorical roles of string figures as multispecies storytelling to think about kinship. The chaotic nature of “Chimera” is fascinating. While in general I enjoy more paired down color combinations, the vibrancy of this work commands my attention like an image of a dense solar system.  

Karin Birch, "The Marriage," Hand embroidery, beadwork and acrylic paint on linen, 2009

A similar biomorphism can be felt in Karin Birch’s tactile drawings, which evoke underwater scenes and microscopic worlds. “Surface Decay” is one of three beadwork and embroidery pieces. These complex abstractions all possess an organic quality, and I feel like I’m witnessing metamorphosis. 

I appreciate the skill, craftsmanship and attention to detail that these women have invested in creating. “Warp and Weft” is an exciting and necessary show of local female artists elevating the renewed importance of skill and craft in fine art. For me good craftsmanship demonstrates care, which could be translated to nurture that is necessary for ourselves, and our communities. 

Artists presented in the show are Jennifer McBrien, Katie O’Keefe, Sasha Baskin, Bonnie Crawford, Karin Birch, Christine Wolfe Strong, and Pam Thompson. “Warp & Weft” is on view at Howard Community College until November 19.  The exhibition reception will be held on October 26 5:00 – 8:00 pm. 

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