If you've never been or rarely go to the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center galleries, this is the month to get there. With three galleries full, 15 artists showing and 81 works on exhibit, the current shows have a quality and variety that means there's something for a range of tastes.
The Main Gallery show makes a strong case for fine visual art in Prince George's County as well. "The Poetry of Paint," a juried show open to people who live or work in the county, includes 11 artists from Clinton to Beltsville. Juror Timothy App, a Maryland Art Institute professor, has picked three works by each, which gives a glimpse of individual style instead of only individual paintings.
Some of the smallest make a big impression: Jorge Castro of Hyattsville paints with coffee, among other materials, to create small watercolor tableaux of religious, heraldic and Masonic symbols and antique weaponry. The works are a paradoxical combination of formal and casual: mechanically precise details on rough watercolor paper that still bears the notches from the sketch pad. Near these are Greenbelt artist Barbara Bjanes's watercolors--just as small and enigmatic but very different, with their sly cartoon surrealism and bubble gum colors.
Among the larger works, Clinton's Jennifer M. Berringer shows sculptural collages of wire, rope, screen and cardboard, plastered flat with layers of paint in industrial yet softly radiant oranges, greens and blues. Suzanne Koch, of Hyattsville, displays nostalgic but rigorous compositions of summer swimming pools and tropical patterns, with Japanese screen effects and internal framing. And you could probably even drag a non-gallery-goer to see Bowie artist Alice Plaster's super-realist views of classic cars, nearly liquid with chrome and bright reflections.
Across the hall in the Library Gallery, contemporary styles are left behind for solid, modernist figure paintings in "One By Three: Paintings of the Figure." Three artists, Jo Weiss Le, Diane Hollowell and Barbara Barrett, have been meeting and sharing a model for years, and the paintings that resulted make for a unified showing that almost looks as if it could be by one artist at three different cycles in her career. All three use a subtle palette of brick, bone and ocean shades; all have a sense of movement; all focus on the figure over the face; and all use free brush strokes with generous application.
But the differences are striking, too. Le's are the smallest and the coolest, with the figure anchored in strong compositions built out of thick planes of paint that could have been applied with a knife. Hollowell uses planes as well but smudges them into richer colorations and some ribbons of pure color. Barrett's are more concerned with line, and full of curves and character.
"Skies: New Works by Natalie R. Fleming" is in the Resident Artists' Gallery. (Fleming has been a resident at the center since 1991.) This collection of watercolors is the venue's most traditional show. There are plenty of basic views here, such as the lovely autumn landscape "View of Great Cacapon," but more interesting are the studies of skies seen through airplane windows, with a sliver of steel wing slicing through the ephemeral clouds.
"Poetry of Paint: A Juried Exhibition" and "Skies: New Works by Natalie R. Fleming" are on view through Nov. 28 and "One by Three: Paintings of the Figure" is on view through Dec. 28 at the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, 12826 Laurel-Bowie Rd., Laurel. For more information, call 301-953-1993.
CAPTION: "At 35,000 Feet" by Natalie R. Fleming is in the Resident Artists' Gallery.