This year’s annual Young Blood exhibition at Maryland Art Place offers up a diverse selection of artists from various Master of Fine Arts programs throughout the Baltimore area. This show included a healthy mix of performances, installation, painting, and video all worthy of discussion amongst all who visit. Young Blood 2013 features work from Jordan Bernier, Katja Toporski’s, Benjamin Andrew, George Belcher, Seung-Beom Cho, Laura Payne, Di Fang, and Jascha Owens. All of the recent MFA graduates attended the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) or Towson University, with none present this year from UMBC or University of Maryland College Park.
One major theme that ran through the majority of the work is the idea of repetition. The pattern-based work of Jascha Owens is an obvious example. Three small paintings on panel, each about 12 by 12 inches in size, adorn the second room of the gallery. His work is located next to a rousing video by artist Di Fang, so a gallery visitor may overlook Owens’ work initially, but I assure you this is only due to placement. When encountered properly, these small painting demand attention. Each employs a dual color scheme in a complicated reiteration that appears both meditative and perplexing. Although the subject matter is formal and abstract, the pattern becomes tactile and the viewer joins the artist’s endeavor, following brushstrokes as if we were making them ourselves. It’s oddly satisfying.
Repetition is abundant in the work of the Seung-Beom Cho, though in this case it serves a more spatial means. Adjacent to Owens’ works, a large un-stretched canvas repeats a pattern of tightly joined spikes in oil stick. The shapes appear to be applied through a stencil, furthering the theme of pattern, and the relation of the mark to the canvas size creates a spatial effect. Showing great restraint, the space itself is described in the most minimal of means, as if the artist stopped each piece at the exact point where space can be imagined by the viewer but also negated.
Cho’s sculptures discuss space much more readily, since they actually inhabit it. Though in this sculpture an optical illusion plays with the idea that pattern can just as easily negate space as instigate it. The “spikes” that are depicted in the drawings inspire uneasiness in the viewer, but in the context of three dimensions they take on an air of actual danger. These sculptures are rendered in steel, and the medium adds a sense of danger to the work as well, so the “spikes” further the desired effect. The three dimensional work allows for less formal understanding of Seung-Beom Cho’s work and the viewer is able to experience the work more subjectively.
In George Belcher’s paintings the idea of repetition is less evident, despite its display as a field of small, similarly composed paintings. Belcher’s work is exploratory, and the artist works in oil on canvas in an achromatic theme, mostly shades of gray and white. These paintings, titled the “O” series, each explore shadows or remnants of certain objects or patterns. It is a tantalizing, ephemeral idea to explore and Belcher exploits it to the fullest extent. These works are haunting and mysterious, even more so because of the cold and scientific method in which Belcher’s examination is conducted. Or perhaps this coldness is precisely what Belcher is examining? Many of Belcher’s images are recognizable either as graphics or forms, but viewed as such, the images instead operate more as a reduced form of visual language. The incorporation of oil paint into this equation is questionable, but the process of painting renders the graphic images as more tactile, and less sterile. This medium allows for the images to be read concurrently as personal exploration and scientific examination, and muddle the dichotomy between visual and verbal language in a compelling way.
Although repetition stands out, there are a number of other ideas explored in the exhibit, like Di Fang’s video pieces that accept narrative as an integral part of the video-as-art making process. In video work this is a given, but what is so interesting about Di Fang’s video, “Hit Me!” is the acceptance of a linear narrative, rather than an abstract one. A man on screen walks down a Baltimore city street. A camera pans and follows him while a voice-over monologues. It is not so much what the narrator says as how voice is used that intrigues me. Every few minutes the man on screen stops and begins to dance while various songs play. This exchange between an apparent internal monologue and extroverted physical movement emerges as the focus of the piece. Then there is the evolving narrative, in which dance and pure music video visuals take over at the end. Flashing lights and bright colors fill the field of vision and club music pumps through the speakers. Unlike a lot of art videos, there is a clear progression, a beginning and an end. As the narrative advances, the viewer is encouraged to leave the safe space of content watching and take the artist’s request seriously to dance in the gallery.
As a whole, Young Blood 2013 contains some of the more potent pieces of artwork in Baltimore City right now. The work displayed is mature and well made, as to be expected from recent graduate students. I will be visiting again before the exhibition ends in September.
* Author Xavier McNellage is a 2012 MICA graduate and a Baltimore based painter and sculptor.