Remembering the soul of a city
By J. Chambless
'Red Ghosts, Caroline Street' by Greg Fletcher.
By John Chambless
There's a jazz-like visual rhythm and a
somber wistfulness in the works of Leslie Schwing and Greg Fletcher,
whose show at the Oxford Arts Alliance looks at their Baltimore home
as it undergoes decay, demolition and urban renewal. The styles of
the two artists complement each other, as they sometimes paint the
same scene, but see it in very different ways.
Greg Fletcher's paintings tend to be more realist in style, but his soft oil textures and slightly stylized shapes have a distinctive air. His “Breadline, Central Avenue” conveys his points with stark simplicity – a shadowy line of figures on a precipice dug by a yellow crane, summing up the city's sometimes sad reality, despite well-intentioned efforts at new construction.
Churches being bulldozed turn up several times in the show. Fletcher's “Carnage: First Apostolic Demolition” depicts the torn-away rubble of a sanctuary as a pinkish mass, suggesting bones and entrails torn from the building. His “Paulownia Tree,” however, shows the determined green tree creeping up the wall of a doomed church building – a bit of life, despite the odds.
There's a lovely light on an un-lovely subject in “Dozer Talk: First Apostolic Demolition,” as two bulldozers sit side by side, paused in their work. Fletcher's “Red Ghosts, Caroline Street” is a haunting view of sun-warmed red brick row homes, with white curtains flapping in the windows. It's chilling, somber and nostalgic at the same time.
His “Hearth, Biddle Street” shows the former heart of a family's home, a fireplace now exposed and facing an empty lot. The same scene is depicted by Schwing in her more abstract “Biddle Street Hearth.”
Fletcher and Schwing also pair off on the same subject, the Hebrew Lutheran Mission, in side-by-side works, pointing out the interesting variations in their styles. Schwing's paintings are more abstracted and layered, with a jumble of fantasy and reality depicted with vivid, jagged, overlapping shapes.
Her “All Hell Breaks Loose on Caroline Street” is an apocalyptic rampage of devils and demons out of the world of Hieronymous Bosch, and her “Refuge in the Latin Palace” is similarly hellish.
But in pieces such as “Biddle Street Blues,” she uses abstracted building shapes and shadows to suggest the jumble and rhythm of the city scene, as well as its historical roots.
Schwing's “Mantis in the Harbor” brings several Baltimore landmarks into play, and her “Crabby Dick's, 610 South Broadway” is a sly indictment of the rather forced nautical mural on the building, half-obscured by support beams holding it up.
Schwing's “Ghosts of Rose Street, Baltimore” gets to the tragic heart of progress through demolition, with the dark outlines of past inhabitants floating against the yellow crane and crumbled buildings. She shows another style completely in her dazzlingly intricate scratchboard works, which have the skill of a Rockwell Kent, but an artistic voice all her own. Get lost in the radiating lines of “Berkley Oak, Berkley, Md.,” or the eerie shadows of “Darlington Cemetery, Darlington, Md.,” and you'll appreciate this whole other side of Schwing's repertoire.
Fletcher gets the same sort of look in his black-and-white monoprint, “God,” and he further stretches stylistically in “Afro Rhythms,” an acrylic that blends traditional motifs and colors in unexpected ways.
That sort of rewarding diversity is true of nearly everything in this show, which spotlights two artists who have very strong viewpoints, and the artistic skills to match.
Works by Greg Fletcher and Leslie Schwing will be on view at the Oxford Arts Alliance (38 S. Third St., Oxford) through Feb. 8. The artists will present a talk in the gallery on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. There will be a closing reception on Feb. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. Call 610-467-0301 or visit www.oxfordart.org.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.