Seated alongside about a dozen other Baltimore artists at a UMUC Art Gallery exhibit opening in May, Donna Rose imagined an alternative reality as only an artist might. “I think that part of the insanity of our species is that we are divorced from nature,” she said. “Maybe we need to bring bears and puma and whatever back into our cities.”
Then, when you leave the house in the morning, she imagined, you might check an “LPS app” on your phone to see which threats registered on the “large predator scan.” It would be, she said, “a kind of rebalancing.”
What kind of community and world we want to live in and how we relate to our environment was a major refrain of the panel—and is the focus of the exhibition they were gathered to discuss. “Order Out of Chaos,” open through July 30, was organized by guest curator Ruth Channing Middleman. It draws together works of 24 artists, all of whom maintain studios at Baltimore’s Artists’ Housing Incorporated.
As with every exhibition that UMUC hosts, “Order Out of Chaos” builds upon the university’s mission of offering a quality education to working adults, veterans, servicemembers and their families, noted UMUC President Javier Miyares in his exhibit-catalog commentary. “By displaying works of art and hosting public exhibitions, free of charge, it serves our local communities while introducing new and established artists to broader audiences,” he wrote.
The artists in this exhibit come from a range of backgrounds and have achieved varying levels of broader recognition. But one thing they all have in common, said UMUC Arts Program Director Eric Key, is that this is the first time they have been shown at UMUC.
“We wanted to reach out to artists whom we didn’t know and to bring guest curators in to do exhibitions,” Key said. “We’re nestled in an area that is very, very culturally diverse. The university student body is very culturally diverse. So, it’s natural that the Arts Program needs to be that as well.”
As Key explained it, he and Middleman went on studio visits at Artists Housing. “We said, ‘There’s a body of work there. Let’s do it.’”
In his catalog commentary, Key added that, in many communities, artist collectives often prove a “natural segue” to neighborhood transformation. “Even though artists’ collectives are established mainly so artists can create, they become places where artists can commune with one another, share ideas and techniques, and, as a result, often revitalize their neighborhoods,” he wrote.
Walking through the exhibit, it’s easy to see that the range of techniques and styles is as diverse as the artists themselves. Here, Fidel Carey-Realmo’s acrylic paintings, which he made by dripping thick paint on canvases he had placed on the floor, evoke the impasto of thickly layered cake icing. While, across the hall, Kini Collins’s symbolism-laden work involves scratching at the paint in such a way that it combines painting and drawing mark-making. Rose, the artist who envisions the predator mobile app, displayed two ceramic works which depict animals in a manner that seems to straddle the boundary between the real and the fantastical.
By comparison, Greg Fletcher’s oil paintings appear considerably more straightforward. The scenes, which Fletcher paints quickly, are realistic landscapes, perhaps reminiscent of the works of Edward Hopper. One work, “Spring Street Snow—Birthplace of the Artist” (1986), relates in a deeply personal way to the city it portrays.
He points out one building, which is where he was born. Across the street is the house where the midwife who delivered him lived. And his house now, which he shares with his wife of 21 years, overlooks his birthplace. When he and his wife met, her studio was on the same block. “I’m back in my original neighborhood,” he said. “It’s like I never left.”
Before becoming an artist, Fletcher attended the University of Maryland as a premed student. As a teenager, he’d worked in a research lab for a scholar who was trying to correct for the rejection problem in heart transplants. “I was a 14-year-old kid from the inner city, and he showed me all these possibilities,” he said. “But the art thing kicked in, and it absolutely trumped everything.”
Fletcher’s brothers had always made art, and he’d grown up drawing as well. So, he began drawing again with pencil, and soon he took up acrylics. His first acrylic painting depicted a duck. But soon he was getting lost in areas like Abstract Expressionism. “I was losing my mind,” he said. “I needed to get grounded.”
When a coworker used to go out and sketch during his lunch break, Fletcher recognized one of the cityscapes. “How dare he come into town and draw my church!” he said. So, he started painting the neighborhood too. “I’ve been doing that ever since, for 40 years.”
Two of his works in the show highlight how chaos and order can intersect. Once when Fletcher was painting a house, an octogenarian came over and informed him, “You know that house that used to be there? There were ex-slaves that lived there.” The man was referring to the 1950s, so it was quite possible that his statement was true, Fletcher said. “You find out little bits of history.”
Another time, he decided he wanted to be away from people for a little while, so he set out to paint Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, which was covered in a couple of inches of snow. “I said, ‘Cemetery. Snow. Nobody is going to be around,’” he remembers. Next thing he knew, a car was driving up.
At first, Fletcher recalled, the human interjection into the landscape was disappointing. (In his painting, a group of figures is visible trudging through the snow.) But he soon found out it was a good thing when the cemetery caretaker came by an hour later before closing shop. The couple had informed him that Fletcher was there painting.
“Otherwise, I’d have been locked in,” he said.