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And the Winner Is? Tony Shore!

Artscape is in the air. Baltimore’s annual three-day celebration of its art and culture and, of course, food got started Friday evening with the awarding of the 2nd annual $25,000 Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize. It was a beautiful night in Baltimore, all the better to be surrounded by the artists, museum and cultural groups, and the fabulous staff of the Mayor's arts council, which organized this event. Baltimore should be proud of the incredible art being made here and the latest addition to the mix, the Sondheim prize, was awarded to painter Tony Shore.

A surprised and humble Shore tearfully accepted his award, and by the end of his talk I think everyone was also a bit emotional. The prize went to a deserving artist, but it was a very difficult choice. This is the first time I had the opportunity to see Snow’s acrylic on velvet paintings: yes, you read that correctly, acrylic on velvet. I knew of his work but in the back of my mind I always thought, ehh, gimmick. Surprise! The medium is a perfect fit for his subject matter, the working class Baltimore neighborhood he grew up in, affectionately called Pig Town, and the life of its community, mostly centered around his main muse, his father.

What Shore does is take a material (velvet) and a synthetic pigment (acrylic) and elevate a harsh working-class theme to a mythic level. In the high-ceilinged gallery of the Baltimore Museum of Art, these large paintings take on the grandeur of Rembrandt as Shore skillfully allows the black velvet material to play a proud supporting role illuminating some pretty somber imagery. Think also of Millet’s imagery of poor villagers or Van Gogh's Potato Eaters. Enjoy the money, Tony: congratulations!

Other finalists of note were Rick Cleaver's fabulous, sculpted figurative assemblages of clay, wood, beads, and lots of gold leaf. I’ve mentioned his work here before, and the installation of his work in the gallery was very impressive. Eric Dyer’s complex, spinning, live video inventions were a finalist for the Sondheim last year also. His Bellows March was as impressive and a joy to watch and try to figure out just how he does it.

Baby Martinez documents, in photos and text, events that make you say out loud in the gallery, “Wow, what a great idea!” One example, with a portion of money made from art sales: he put $20 bills into the pockets of pants at a thrift store. Whoever bought the garment would have a wonderful surprise when they put their hands into the pockets for the first time. Or the ragged sign in front of a neighborhood grocery he stole one night and returned it, sanded and repainted: simple, straight up, wonderful.

Baltimore's mayor, Sheila Dixon, started the evening off with the announcement of a new $1 million Creative Baltimore Fund, aimed at nonprofit arts organizations with a focus on children and teens. OK, keep that up, Madame Mayor, and you have my vote.

See my Flickr site for more images of the exhibit. I’ll post more about next weekend's Artscape Festival this week.


Anonymous said...

He grew up in Morrell Park not Pig Town.

Mark Barry said...

Anon, I didn't know that detail, if it's true, Morrell Park should have a block party for Tony.