The works in "Classical Perspectives," the current two-person exhibition at the Prince George's Community College Marlboro Gallery, are a breath of fresh air at a time when spectacle frequently passes for art.
Sculptor and painter Robert Liberace points out that the supply of romantic subjects and sensual forms characteristic of the baroque period is far from depleted.
"Why should they have all the fun?" Liberace asks, referring to the classical artists whose themes often were drawn from mythological and biblical sources.
But Liberace invariably adds a flourish that plants his work firmly in the modern age. His "Apollo and Marsyas," for example, tells the tale from Greek mythology of a young flute player who challenges the sun god Apollo to a musical competition. Apollo wins the contest and orders his minions to flay his challenger in a public square.
Liberace's rendering of the scene includes several contemporary touches. In addition to the ancient men participating in and watching the flaying, some boisterous interlopers look on as well: a modern media horde.
The human shucking takes place on a concrete path next to the Newseum in Arlington. The Washington Monument is visible in the distance, and a rash of television cameras gathers around the central players. A Fox television satellite truck pokes out beside Apollo's outstretched arms.
Liberace juxtaposed the story and setting to illustrate the excesses of the media. "What would they do if this happened today? Would a crazy stream of reporters go after [Apollo and Marsyas]?" Liberace asks.
In an effort to render the scene accurately, Liberace snapped photographs of the media swarm that perpetually lay in wait for Monica Lewinsky in Washington last year.
In addition to his modern takes on classical myths, Liberace also produces realistic nude paintings and sculptures. One life-size oil painting depicts a man with an eyebrow ring and a long braided goatee; he is bald, and the purple robe draped over his shoulders reveals a bare chest. His shorts are worn loose enough to reveal his Calvin Klein underwear.
Painter Ellen Zelano's vivid still lifes belie the term. The key is preparing the scenes, she says. She considers the time spent placing her objects--vegetables, tablecloths, china, toys--nearly as important as the time devoted to putting oil to canvas.
During the placement stage, she considers every angle and color, forcing her subjects to compete with one another for the viewer's attention. Her brush strokes emphasize the most visually stimulating parts of each scene: the rounded side of a shiny tomato, a crimson cloth, an orange flower petal.
Zelano's most emotional works are her nudes. Sadness permeates "Seated Woman," in which a middle-aged blond model sits with her soft blue eyes downcast. Her hair pulled back, she wears a pinkish-peach robe and clasps a coffee cup.
The artist's sense of humor surfaces in "Felled by a Toy Lion." A toy lion stands atop a green, latched box. A red-and-yellow puppet is sprawled nearby, a smile frozen onto his face.
"I'm not one of those photo realists," Zelano says. "I still consider myself a painter. I want to have the classical technique and feeling, just with modern subjects."
"Classical Perspectives" is on view through Oct. 21 at Prince George's Community College, Marlboro Art Gallery, 301 Largo Rd., Largo. Admission is free. For more information, call 301-322-0965.
CAPTION: "Still Life With Monkey," by Ellen Zelano, is one of the works in "Classical Perspectives" at Prince George's Community College.
CAPTION: "Why should they have all the fun?" Robert Liberace asks, referring to classical artists. Liberace's work entitled "Job" is shown above.