Self as Landscape, Landscape as Self
The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Arts Center at Montgomery College
March 10–April 8, 2010
Review by Joren A. Lindholm
Last month I headed up to The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Arts Center at Montgomery College’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus to view the work of painter Jim Condron. Not knowing the campus and having never heard of the artist, landscape was all I had to go by. It doesn't take long to realize that there is a sea of ordinary landscape painting in the world and that’s how I envisioned this exhibition. As it turned out, however, Condron is no painting monkey. A Space Within: Self as Landscape, Landscape as Self was arresting for me as I recognized aspects of my own experience, startlingly reflected in the paintings of someone else.
Entering the space, I was greeted by many oil paintings, ranging from large to small, hung in several open-ended corridors threading throughout the large gallery space. These paintings are harmonious—direct and clear with a wise use of the elements. They unfold slowly with a sophistication of light and ambiance. Not every one was a winner, yet the smaller works were the show’s highlight. Framing images of gardens that could be the artist's backyard, they were quite moving in their ability to amplify quiet places and assert themselves center stage. Furthermore, the undeniable glow in their illumination, a result of his intelligently-mediated color and tone, reminded me of the sensation of arriving in a new country and taking in what I saw. The pieces depicting environments at night had an equally invigorating kind of light. Not bad for hues assigned to plants, soil, and trees. Could these subjects be the ones at or near his Baltimore home?
Several large canvases featured houses injected into the backyard image which he refers to as “structures” on his website (www.jcondron.com). In these works, Condron's mark seems to take the lead, commanding the surface geometry and employing more dynamics than the charmingly and uniformly limp hand he uses in his small canvases. The ambition with large-scale was nice to see, yet I was disappointed with how the architecture dispelled the transporting effect that the whole show had going for it, leaving those pictures relatively anomalous by their localization.
In the same gallery, there was an exhibition of optical-effect-driven sculpture and painting (mostly with thin stripes, as I recall) by Delaware artist Dennis Beach, titled “On and Off the Wall.” Those works were installed throughout the other end of the space (yes, the Cafritz Art Center was raised in the new millenium, so it is big) and amounted to a sobering glance and go, in stark contrast to Condron’s economy of means.