In the galleries: Exhibits highlight maternal themes past and present

In the galleries: Exhibits highlight maternal themes past and present


Motherhood links two shows at the University of Maryland Art Gallery that overlap physically as well as thematically. The venue’s front room is devoted mostly to “African Art From the Dr. Gilbert and Jean Jackson Collection,” traditional pieces collected by a pair of university alumni. Coralina Rodriguez Meyer’s “Mother Molds” occupies the backroom, but a few of its pieces infiltrate the display of African works, so the artist’s casts of pregnant torsos complement the many sculptures of a mother and child.

The Jacksons’ holdings are largely from West Africa (including what is now Ivory Coast) and were mostly made in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some are undated but are probably of similar vintage. (Because such artworks are usually made of wood, few earlier ones survive.) The artists are unknown, and some objects may be the product of more than one pair of hands. But they have a strong sense of unity, in part because many were carved from a single block of wood.

The gallery can offer little definitive information on the African pieces, but they illustrate typical concerns. In addition to the mother-and-child figures, representing fertility and human continuity, the selection includes ancestor figures and masks made for ceremonial wear. They exemplify cultures in which spirituality sifts into everyday life.

Rodriguez Meyer, who divides her time between Brooklyn and Miami, began making molds of expectant mothers’ bellies in 2018, when she became pregnant a decade after doctors told her she never would. Her headless women are rendered in insulation foam partly painted with bright metallic pigments. Installed alongside thatched fronds and colorfully patterned fabric, the vividly hued abdomens seem to equate human reproduction with tropical fecundity.

“Mother Molds,” however, isn’t simply celebratory. The artist also means to call attention to the risks and dilemmas of motherhood, such as disproportionately high maternal mortality rates among women of color. Rodriguez Meyer’s subjects may be goddesses, but the world in which they live is no heaven.

Coralina Rodriguez Meyer: Mother Molds and African Art From the Dr. Gilbert and Jean Jackson Collection Through Dec. 8 at the Art Gallery, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building, University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 301-405-2763.

Pascal Konan

The sense of struggle and overcoming in Pascal Konan’s pictures can be seen as autobiographical. The artist grew up in a slum in Abidjan, the largest city in Ivory Coast, and memories of the teeming neighborhood animate his show at African Art Beats, “Forging Our Collective Destiny.” As the title indicates, Konan seeks to organize and uplift the crowd.

The mixed-media drawing-paintings, rendered on black denim, are packed with people. Konan’s depictions of individuals in dancer-like poses are also of many, since his heroic figures contain numerous smaller bodies. Even the shadows his characters cast are made of miniature humans, and tiny people also cohere into hair, vines and milky ways.

Konan’s childhood goal was to become an astronaut, and he switched to art only after being told there was no place to study astronomy in his homeland. His artworks often place people in cosmic settings, framed by rings of starlight conjured by spattering bleach on the black fabric. The canny use of humble materials reflects both Konan’s impoverished childhood and his ability to imagine something bolder and grander.

Pascal Konan: Forging Our Collective Destiny Through Dec. 12 at African Art Beats, 3501 Lowell St. NW. 202-766-2608.


Lines, loops and other geometric forms define the sleek sculptural paintings in “Proximities.” Machine-like precision unifies the styles of Michael Scott, Blair Thurman and the Swiss-born Olivier Mosset, who all maintain studios in New York. Yet there’s a whimsical quality to some of the works in this show at Pazo Fine Art’s Kensington location.

Mosset applies color-shifting paint to aluminum panels, which are often cut into bars, stars or semicircles. Each glimmering artwork juxtaposes two pieces in contrasting shapes and, usually, hues. The combinations suggest flags but also highly simplified landscapes. Three pictures have low horizontal bars that might represent a slice of earth or sea.

End of carousel

Parallel horizontal lines, often white on black, characterize Scott’s work. They are made with enamel paint on upright aluminum panels, most of them narrow. The artist sometimes varies his formula, if only slightly, by adding color or by breaking the lines into columns of segments that remain parallel but are vertically unaligned.

On close inspection, Scott’s lines reveal their handmade character. In his “Roundtrip,” Thurman goes further, messing with exactitude by leaving sections of concentric red circles partly or entirely unpainted. Yet his rounded canvases are flawlessly shaped, and the details are usually rendered as meticulously as the silver surface of the playfully titled “8-Track Painting.” Like his cohorts, Thurman takes inspiration from the inadvertent beauty of industrial objects.

Proximities Through Dec. 7 at Pazo Fine Art, 4228 Howard Ave., Kensington, Md. 571-315-5279.

Among the highlights of Connersmith’s “Reunion” is a lovely Sam Gilliam abstraction that mixes watery acrylic pigments with metallic paints, giving the pulpy forms a battered industrial quality. The picture was made in 1968, when Gilliam was well established as an artist. But many other pieces in this exhibition of work by six Washington colorists are from early in their careers.

Gene Davis’s trademark stripes don’t appear in his two entries, painted in the 1950s under the stormy influence of abstract expressionism. The colorful, mosaic-like daubs of Alma Thomas’s signature style are missing from her 1960 expressionist watercolor, “Macy’s Parade,” the only piece in the show that flirts with representational imagery. The clean lines and bright hues of Hilda Shapiro Thorpe’s paintings and sculpture arrived after 1959, the date of her thickly painted, mostly blue and black picture.

Although made just from 1955 to 1959, the three Thomas Downing paintings are the most diverse. The earliest is intricately patterned, vibrantly kinetic and defined by opaque black. The colors are more aqueous in the later pictures, one of which bounds a blue field in a series of hard-edge painted frames. Most intriguing is the latest one, in which blue pigment defines three rows of soft shapes that are actually areas of unpainted canvas. This flips Washington color painting’s usual approach to bare canvas, placing the open areas within rather than without. The picture’s white voids seem to glow like candles behind a blue scrim, an effect as striking as the technique is simple.

Reunion Through Dec. 9 at Connersmith, 1013 O St. NW. 202- 588-8750.


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