By CHRIS COPLEY
6:13 PM EDT, August 1, 2012
A row of mid-20th-century wind-up clocks. A stack of old books. Something hidden under a draped, pink cloth. Rows and rows of disposable coffee shop cups. A mound of marshmallows.
These are a handful of the subjects portrayed in an exhibit opening this weekend at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. The show of almost 70 realistic paintings by 11 living artists appears in Hagerstown courtesy of a collaboration between WCMFA and George Billis Gallery of New York City and Los Angeles.
WCMFA collections and exhibitions manager Jennifer Chapman Smith worked with Billis to organize the show, "Still Life: The Painted Image." The show opens Saturday, Aug. 4, and continues through Jan. 20.
Traditionally, a still life is an arrangement of objects on a table. The paintings Billis is bringing are all realistic, she said, but artists sometimes broadly interpreted the usual definition of a still life.
Smith pointed to images on the program describing the show.
"Look at this painting by Matt Condron. It's a still life, ... but it's one of those (spring-mounted playground) horse things, an urban scene," Smith said. "And then you have the more traditional flowers (such as Jeffrey Reed's 'Hydrangeas No. 2') and then you'll have Randall W.L. Mooers' pears and a pitcher. So it will be a mix."
Smith said Billis pitched the show to WCMFA. It's a win-win for both art institutions, she said. The museum gets top-quality paintings produced by contemporary artists. The gallery gets exposure outside New York and LA for its artists.
"I think sometimes when you say — living, contemporary art from New York,' people think, 'I'm not going to understand it. It's going to be crazy.' But you look at this and you understand it," Smith said.
"You have the people who will (look at Tom Gregg's "Pink Unknown" and) say, 'All right, it's a pink sheet.' But the next painting will be (Reed's "Hydrangea," and) 'Oh, it's a hydrangea,'" Smith said. "I think it will be accessible."
Smith said she is looking forward to seeing the paintings of Susan Jane Belton in the show. Belton painted a series of coffee cups.
"OK, the coffee cup — you drink the coffee, you throw the cup out. She's taking something we would normally toss in the can and saying, 'Look at it.' It's interesting," Smith said. "All her (coffee cup paintings) will be together. So it will be a wall of coffee cups."
Subject-wise, the show is all over the map — flowers to coffee cups to a pink sheet to marshmallows. But Smith talked about common themes.
"I see that they're using everyday objects and kind of capturing them in different ways. I like it for the aspect that these artists took a bunch of pears, which I have at home on my counter, and made it into a beautiful work of art. Or clocks. We see clocks every day. But then you come to the art museum and you say, 'Wow!'"
And that's one result of seeing a show that combines "art objects" like draped cloth, flowers and old books with ordinary, everyday objects.
"I think it will be an interesting show, because it won't completely throw people off. But I think it'll challenge people's perception of still lifes," she said. "Some artists insist there's a deeper sociological commentary meaning — they might comment on a throw-away culture. And other artists are, 'These elements just looked nice together.' I think, with the mixture we'll have, we'll have both kinds."
And if art can people to look at their lives with fresh eyes, Smith said that's great.
"Like, when you look at (Belton's coffee) cup, there's a lot of detail in that," she said. "But when you get your coffee cup from Starbucks, do you look at it?"
If you go ...
WHAT: "Still Life: The Painted Image"
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 4 through Sunday, Jan. 20
WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown
COST: Free admission; donation requested
CONTACT: Call 301-739-5727 or go to www.wcmfa.org
MORE: The show features realistic still lifes painted by 11 living artists associated with George Billis Gallery of New York and Los Angeles.
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