How often have you seen a work of art that drew you in, made you feel a connection, an emotional response you couldn’t find the words to explain? Artists in this city are incredibly gifted at tapping into the lane of communication between heaven and earth, unearthing and elevating truths that let us know that we are not so alienated and perhaps not so alone.
The pandemic has been relentless in its devastation; we are all recalibrating, struggling, stifling, and surviving in its wake. These exhibitions feature artworks that reflect the deeply personal nature of art and artists’ transformative capabilities to make revelatory art.
Lifecycles-Mind/Body, a dual multimedia exhibition, features the work of Se Jong Cho and Bonnie Crawford, and Good Taste is a solo exhibition of paintings by Donald “Davinci” Taylor at Lord Baltimore Hotel.
Lifecycles-Mind/Body is displayed in the Mount Vernon fine art gallery Catalyst Contemporary. The exhibit features a series of watercolor studies by Cho and photographic diptychs by Crawford. According to the curatorial statement, the exhibit explores “current Western social and linguistic dichotomies such as male|female, nature|human, and art|science.” Cho, a trained scientist, offers a series of paintings documenting her menstrual cycle.
At the same time, Bonnie Crawford’s drawings, photographs, and sculptures reflect production, care, and capitalism’s devaluation of reproductive labor, through the use of organic materials, like silkworms, and subjects, like her husband and kids.
These two women have created hauntingly beautiful and vibrant artworks, creating art that is both raw and vulnerable. Their talent reflects the times, and it illustrates the ability of female creators to create space to process their experiences while inviting others to examine and locate familiarity within them.
Cho offers 12 paintings each named after a month in 2020, representing the artist’s menstrual cycle. Viewing the work in the gallery, the durational nature of the work, the artist, and the passage of time are frozen beautifully. This series is an exercise in memento mori. In front of them, I thought about the aging and duration of my physical body.
The first part of Cho’s 2020 is memorialized in four acrylic paintings, January through April 2020, which she painted in 2021. Variations exist between the landscape backgrounds, the clouds, and the mountains on display. The center of each painting is dominated by a tiled black and white surface, recalling a dance floor, a checkerboard, or even a blister pack of birth control pills.
In May, June, July, and August 2020, which Cho painted in 2022, the checkerboard structure is now displayed in brown and tan, and the background now features various waves of green, pink, purple, and blue pigments. The painted mountains give way to peaks and valleys.
The fact that the works are displayed back of the gallery offers 12 chances for the viewer to experience her work by stepping a little bit closer. Twelve small watercolor paintings are on display; each is intricate and detailed, with an array of colors, textures, and patterns that nearly emanate outside the frames. These paintings are much smaller, at 5.5 x 7 inches; they are almost diminutive in relation to paintings in the front room. The artist created them as studies for her acrylic paintings.
The work is sensitive, tender, and offers a beautiful and interesting peek into the artist’s process, the decorative nature of the work is secondary to its purpose, perfecting the multiplicity of an artist’s existence.
Bonnie Crawford offers a series of sculptures, paintings, and photographs that speak to the irrevocably personal nature of good art, the ability and vulnerability of an artist to share so much in their work for their audiences. Crawford’s sculptures, which she refers to as “collaborations with worms,” are made with materials that are produced or altered by larvae. These pieces explore the cycle of birth, reproduction, and death that are inherent and natural processes of all biological organisms. The works on display are very much alive with meaning because of the tenderness and care Crawford imparts on them.
In the first panel of Untitled Diptych (Dill, JB’s gift) (2022), the artist’s husband sleeps while she rests her hand on his face. In the second, a hand holds a piece of dried dill. The work is quiet, tender, and full of love, revealing an immutable connection to the natural world and a fierce love for family. Untitled Diptych (Holes) (2021) reflects the theme of binaries. In the first panel, a photograph of grass, with a hole dug out of the middle of it. The second half of the diptych features a photograph of a stone sidewalk where a round mass of grass rests. The photograph is marked by a shadow of leaves.
Good Taste is an exhibition of acrylic paintings on display at Lord Baltimore Hotel’s LB Bistro. It features artwork by Donald “Davinci” Taylor, a painter who specializes in abstract, surreal, and pop art. See No, Hear No, Speak No (Date Unknown) is an acrylic painting featuring three Black women. In the center of the image, A Black woman wearing a pink top, her hair in braids and knots. She faces away from the viewer. Over her shoulders, you see two other Black women with similar hairstyles — one looks at the viewer with a sunflower obscuring her mouth; the figure next to her has sunflowers covering her eyes, and the central figure has one resting behind her ear. These three are depicted in an embrace. Taylor has painted a background of blue, with red roses, various flowers, and bubbles bespeckling the expanse behind his main characters. Embodying the title of the painting, these three women are displayed at leisure and in peace.
King of NY (Date Unknown) is an inspirational tribute to Biggie, featuring a portrait of the late rapper Christopher Wallace. Wallace is painted in strokes of bold colors that mimic his familiar Coogi sweaters, with black text wallpapering the back of the painting. The words “Brooklyn” and “New York” rest on this shoulders. Taylor has also painted some of Wallace’s lyrics emanating around Biggie’s head, and at the base of the painting, the Brooklyn skyline is painted. This tribute to Biggie has a lyrical quality in content and in form; gazing at it I imagined the opening notes of “Sky’s The Limit” playing.
Taken together, all of the works in Taylor’s show are an exercise of the possibilities of expression for many Black creators. The setting of Good Taste, on display in the bustling cafe, also allows the work to feel more approachable. You can stumble into the space and encounter the works. Taylor’s exhibition is transformative in that you forget you’re in a cafe for a while. There are silk flowers, Black women painted in acrylic opulence, a self-portrait of the artist, and a remix of the Monopoly man — the entire show is a medley of artworks that reflect the experience of Taylor and speak to the pulse of Baltimore City, an incubator of vibrant, enigmatic, and exceptionally creative Black artists.
Lifecycles – Mind/Body is on display at Catalyst Contemporary through May 27, 2023.
Good Taste is on display at Lord Baltimore Hotels’ LB Bistro & Bakery through June 30, 2023.