In “Dreamers and Builders,” two nude men struggle under a tower of North American trees, suburban houses, clouds and a little red barn. The image falls somewhere between fantasy and metaphor, and each man, one white and one black, wears a saddle on his back. Although they face away from each other, it’s obvious they must work together to keep the precarious construction intact. Their frustration is evidenced in their bright blue testicles, a tiny detail one might miss in this complicated visual delight. Charlton, an American University associate professor based in Baltimore, is a master of images that hover between naughty and nice, familiar and bizarre. “In America, the suburban lifestyle is seen as a reward,” says Charlton. “These men are bearing all the responsibilities for this landscape, but none of the advantages. Their blue balls represent longing—the things that you desire so much, but don’t get.”
In “Human Anatomy,” Andrew Liang represents organs with cartoon sausage links, Smurfs heads and honey bears; and bones as pretzels, baseball bats and a pepperoni pizza. At the center, where the two figures’ hands connect, one lollipop licks another, while cartoon stars, pancakes, penguins and cats float on the fringes. “That’s their friends hovering around, waiting for a phone call for a dinner party or to go get a drink somewhere,” says the Baltimore transplant from Hong Kong who infuses humor into his work. “I enjoy socializing with other humans, animals and things—and take these inspirations to the studio to maximize the length of enjoyment by making drawings, paintings and sculptures of them.” Although he’s a skilled painter, Liang also has constructed a number of large, immersive art games, including a human pinball machine, a life-sized foosball table and a glow-in-the-dark Whac-A-Mole.
After a string of international art fairs and New York shows, critical darling Seth Adelsberger is garnering acclaim for his versatility and prolificacy—cranking out diverse series of paintings in a surprising array of materials and styles. His glowing “Submersion” series, on view in the Front Room at the BMA through Nov. 2, resembles airport luggage X-rays with rich washes of cyan or magenta paint floating over topographic layers of white gesso primer. Also in the solo exhibition: expressionistic designs from rug samples that Adelsberger digitally manipulated to heighten the pattern and pile, then had printed as actual carpet. “My work re-examines the history of abstract painting through the lens of painting’s relationship to technology and the internet,” he explains.
Dina Kelberman’s online “I’m Google” project has been exhibited at the New Museum in New York, lauded by New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, and tweeted by “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest. However, the longtime Wham City member also produces “Important Comics,” a hand-drawn series that can be as visually arresting as it is funny. “My drawing style comes from my general fickleness,” admits Kelberman. “I like to throw random lines on the page and then react to them, which is more of a similar process to painting than traditional comics.” Kelberman benefits from self-publishing her offbeat mini-dramas in limited-edition runs, so that she can control their aesthetics (described by the artist as “crazy messy nonsense”), nimbly walking the line between comics and fine art.
Jo Smail never thinks about beauty when she creates her charmingly awkward compositions. Instead, she says, “I try to surprise myself so concentrating is a kind of forgetfulness of what I think I know about painting.” Although this romantic, blind process can be full of hidden accidents, mistakes and weirdness, Smail embraces it. When paintings don’t turn out, she cuts them up and collages pieces of them into other works. In “Swimming Underground,” Smail combines bits of former paintings with oil, acrylic and monoprint, leaving large swaths of mostly raw canvas as the setting for an abstract shape that references butterflies, leaves and stems—an organic form wriggling underground, poised to bloom through. The iconic image of new life comes directly from Smail’s painting philosophy: “The best work seems to make itself.”
Coming this fall, Amy Sherald’s “Equilibrium” will take on new life as a billboard-sized mural on the west façade of the J. Van Story Branch Sr. Apartments in the Station North Arts District. The painting depicts a woman walking a tightrope, precariously yet elegantly balanced, with a heart locket swinging from one hand. “Embracing an in-between state is an ideal situation in which we open our hearts and our minds and walk the line in a search of equilibrium,” says the MICA grad whose lush, realistic style is characterized by a timeless, dreamlike quality. “Pointing to our own hearts to discover what is true isn’t just a matter of honesty, but also compassion and respect for what we see in each other around the world.”
Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies lecturer Karen Yasinsky won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 2010, and has created original animations and drawings based on popular films for many years—often collaborating with local musicians and composers. In “This Room is White,” actress Shelley Duvall hovers, hummingbird-like, as dark outlines and rainbows pulsate around her. The hand-drawn animation features thousands of drawings (15 per second)—and includes scenes from 1970s movies mixed with the artist’s sticker collection from the same time period. “For some reason I can’t work from real life,” says Yasinsky. “I get excited from parts of particular films I love—a character, scene, distinct images or ideas. These fragments stick in my head like a problem, and in order to solve it, I have to work with it.”