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Storytellers
Strong Showing From A Trio Of MICA Graduates
Adrienne Figus' "Dino"

Nasa, Esa, S. Beckwith, and The Hubble Heritage Team"

Elizabeth Graeber's "Fruit-Bowl"

 

one of Lexy Singer's paintings.
THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR: (top to bottom) Adrienne Figus' "Dino," Elizabeth Graeber's "Fruit-Bowl," and one of Lexy Singer's paintings.
Adrienne Figus, Elizabeth Graeber, and Lexy Singer

While Andy Warhol began his illustrious career with animated little food drawings for midcentury recipe books, his cartoon pies, for all their provenance, aren't anywhere near as clever and lively as Elizabeth Graeber's are in her small array of culinary and other drawings at Sheppard Art Gallery in Ellicott City. Graeber joins Lexy Singer and Adrienne Figus for this light-as-air show of Maryland Institute College of Art graduates, curated by fellow artist and MICA grad Laura Shema.

Graeber's watercolor drawings of cakes, cookies, Jell-o molds, and casseroles mingle salon-style with a few elfin scenes of leaping rabbits, anxious hedgehogs, and stoic birds. The subjects are loyal to her signature outline style of caricature in which her isolated specimens appear suspended, waiting, adrift on the white page. Graeber's friendly collection of images on the wall of the frame-shop gallery is entirely palatable and captivating, but they're little more than party favors compared to her work installed in the window. These wonderful, large scenarios of cello players making the music that creates the world--curlicuing into oceans and air masses, stirring birds into flight--are imaginative, satisfying, and, for someone who doesn't place her subjects in an environment, particularly successful.

Once standing in the gallery, though, you forget that these elaborate watercolors are part of Graeber's body of work, and the display of her full talent suffers from their absence. If anything, in her condensed allotted space, those fine works should have taken to the walls, and the little illustrations placed as teasers in the window. Graeber's illustrated cookbook, titled Second Mondays at Noon, and a cute version of Grimm's Fairy Tales further represent her humorous work.

Lexy Singer's diminutive, often square, oil-on-paper landscapes are jeweled treasures. Sprung fully clothed out of Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, and Richard Diebenkorn's fused heads, Singer's colorfield technique describes both urban settings and natural sites to advocate Hofmann's "push-pull" theory in her aesthetic choices. The views would be slightly sterile and inhospitable if she didn't select such happy, active, resonant/reactive tones for her ramparts, or manipulate her forms to gain them equal advantage. In each painting a small fleck of bright hue often radiates from a block of solid color, as though one light left on in a building at dusk. It suggests a wakeful human presence, as though the artist herself is both painting the scene and living alone within it. Singer also includes a few pen and inks for those who like a spontaneous sketchbook quality, but they look preliminary to her condensed, dramatic paintings.

The primary show-stopper is Adrienne Figus' poignant series of etchings. Along with a small accordion book and a set of felt finger puppets, all feature a small cast of reappearing exotic characters. Among them are a mythological faun character gently lifted and transformed from the Lucas Cranach the Elder painting "A Faun and His Family"; a plump, lovable, matriarchal dinosaur; a dwarf, technology-bringing Martian robot; and a little girl playing dress-up. There are bunnies and pterodactyls, and other players as well, especially for the finger-puppet crew.

Figus' etchings are given the full back room at the Sheppard Gallery. If not exactly democratic, the arrangement recognizes the importance of experiencing the sequential story line of her complex, illusory fables. Each simply outlined character--the dinosaur, robot, and little girl--has an attribute hat, which it offers generously and variously to the other players. The idea of garment exchange is central in Figus' work. The robot's cap features one funny bobbing antenna that the dinosaur dons in order to modernize herself, while the dinosaur's chapeau (which includes a nice long neck) provides the little girl a sense of the long ago. Figus enjoys not just the concept of interspecies mixing but also of era mixing--the future and the past as blending figments of our mental picture of time and evolution. Blessed with childlike naiveté, intimacy, and humor, these quiet, brilliant little sheets of etched paper, with their vastly different characters helping each other along, should be dropped by the millions from airplanes across the entire globe to give its quarrelsome denizens their xenophilic example. As it is, they are presently available in a lesser supply in Ellicott City, spreading their message.

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Reprinted from The Baltimore City Paper