Strokes of Genius, A Fine Art Painting Exhibition at Maryland Federation of Art’s Circle Gallery in Annapolis, MD

Nov 1 – 23, 2013

Juror: M. Stephen Doherty, Editor of PleinAir Magazine

Official Stats: One hundred and ninety artists representing twenty eight states, DC and Canada submitted six hundred artworks. Seventy four paintings by sixty artists were accepted and you can see them at the Maryland Federation of Art’s (MFA) Circle Gallery in Annapolis.

Juror Stephen Doherty is the Editor of PleinAir Magazine and his choices are Extremely Traditional in subject matter and techniques. The show would be completely different if it had been juried by someone looking for paintings with more statement-centric work. I often wonder if this type work is what most folks expect to find in Annapolis.

It was disappointing that Doherty was not at the reception, but David Diaz, Exhibition Committee Chairman, stood in for him to say some things about the paintings. He did a great job describing the paintings in the most painterly way possible, so he gets an award for Best Juror Remarks by a Non-Juror.

I classified the paintings I will describe in this review according to Superilities: “Best Use of…” or “Most…” I think it is fun to invent these categories as a way to counteract the Juror’s Choice Awards, of which there are 5 (There are no First, Second and Third Place awards). The MFA Gallery tells each juror that it is up to them how to divide the prize money. I am glad there were no Honourable Mentions, as there have been shows where there were so many Honourable Mention Awards that it became pointless.

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The Most Unexpected award and The Only Conceptual Painting award goes to “Stephanie and A Woman in a Flowered Shawl” by Laura Cassells from Medicine Hat, Alberta. As soon as I stated writing down the title on my notepad I had a strong feeling that the painting is referencing an image I am supposed to remember from Art History class. Maybe I really was paying attention in all those darkened classrooms, or was it a subliminal response? Anyway, the painting depicts a ‘Jane Austen era woman,’ wrapped in a flowered shawl, looking directly at the painter, or the audience. Her alter image is a woman texting on her smartphone so she isn’t looking at us without the flowered shawl and probably doesn’t even know there is a women next to her. This subject is near and dear to me, as I have made lots of work on the topic of the alienation created by techno activity. It is great to see a Canadian painting and I welcome more of our neighbors to the north to enter MFA shows.

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This the original image that is referenced, painted by Salomon Guillaume Counis (1785-1859) and is dated 1820. Further research reveals that the work is in a private collection, which makes me wonder if the information provided was accurate.

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“Yard Work” by Nancy McKittrick Stark is an acrylic painting on gessoed watercolour paper and receives a Best Use of Texture award. It is a large painting of two men riding a train, holding onto the handrails. The men appear to looking at something up ahead. It evokes a quintessential American aesthetic and would be well suited for the American Landscapes exhibit the MFA installs every year. The texture the gesso makes is exploited to make the train car look more distressed than it appears to be at first glance or it predicts decay.

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“Sassafras and Acanthus” by Richard James Moninski is a small, acrylic and marker painting on top of an inkjet print. It makes me smile because sassafras is BIG in Indiana, where I grew up and because it is a good combination of a photo of green sassafras leaves and a stylized, patterned image of icanthus, complete with convincing shadows. The icanthus looks like it is a plate or patterned paper or fabric. The artist exploits the visual connection between the two types of plants. His award is Best Mix of Two Media.

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Best Expressive Painting of Three-Dimensional Space is awarded to Lynn Mehta for her painting “Railroad Crossing.” She isn’t afraid to be very expressive with broad swipes of oil paint to make a railroadscape and if you get a chance to stand back as far as possible you will see a very well done shadow of the crossing signal that looks like it could be reflected in water. Mehta has a wonderful command of how to express a three-dimensional space with expressive, lively, energetic and sloppy paint strokes and I mean sloppy in a good way.

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Bruno Baran’s “Rainy Day Ellicott City” wins him the Best Rainy Day Landscape award. His is also an expressive/energetic landscape. I like it because it isn’t tidy and it doesn’t need to be. The painting captures the essence of a small, Civil War era town in the rain. The orange oil paint Baran uses to reference the brick rowhouses and the sidewalk is an autumnal colour and I can feel the wet pavement, suggested by the brushstrokes.

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Baran has two other paintings in this show. The other one I like is “Later Afternoon Apple Barn, Cromwell Valley.” Some people at the opening reception know Baran and were wondering why he wasn’t there. I would have liked to meet him, but perhaps another time?

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Best Craftsmanship, Camouflage and Use of Materials is awarded to Richard Masters for his oil painting on black canvas “Spirited Lark.” Masters used a very precise technique to make the paint create a dot matrix photo-realist representation of a traditional asian motif. Every dot is exquisitely placed for pointillist shading. I am 100% positive you cannot fully comprehend this technique until you see it in real space.

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There are many great landscapes in Strokes of Genius, which comes as no surprise, considering the juror’s métier. I must mention the impressionist landscapes of David Diaz: “Quiet Morning” is a study in how many greens a painter can use and allow us to see all the variations as if many other colours were used. Diaz’s brushstrokes are a textbook example of how to make a painting be all about the brushstrokes. His award has to be Best Use of Green. I am mentioning this painting not only because he is a friend and Mega MFA member/volunteer/backbone of the organization (is it possible to thank him enough?). I am attempting to flatter him so he will finally agree to swap art.

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Joanna Barnum’s “Monhegan Island, Maine: View of Wharf from Fish Beach” won a Juror’s Choice Award and was sold before the opening. It  is awarded by me the Best Use of Pencil. The collector saw her painting on the gallery’s advance notice for the show, so great PR efforts on the part of the MFA staff as well. The first thing I noticed was her unbridled use of pencil and in many places the watercolour didn’t even pay attention to the very spontaneous pencil lines. I love seeing artists who don’t hide anything because we learn the most from those paintings. Barnum also has a great command of watercolour and uses the white of the paper to great effect. I visited her website to look at more of her watercolours and was pleasantly surprised to see that she already posted about the opening and how good it was to meet some of the other artists.

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Cecila Murray’s “Radiance II” receives the Best Representation of Water award and takes us to a New England bog. The water can be experienced so vividly by the way she handles pastel on paper, hard to believe.

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John Ebersberger’s painting “Antiques” gets the award for Best Illumination in a Still Life.

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And, finally the award for Best Sort of Like a Barn Painting goes to Murray Taylor. “Late June” features a beautiful edge of yellow paint to let us know where the sun hits the side of a house, edged with a warm purple grey-green shadow. I do have some evil thoughts about the air-conditioner unit at the edge of the house.

Even though I am drawn to artwork that is more content driven, I must admit that there are some great paintings in Strokes of Genius and it is well worth the schlep to Annapolis. The weather was beautiful for the opening reception and you may luck out again and enjoy a stroll in Historic Annapolis, Annapolitans, too!

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* Author Anna Fine Foer is an Annapolis-based Visual Artist. View her work here http://www.annafineart.com.