Prestigious new gallery RandallScottProjects kicks off inaugural show with safe, but solid, work

City Paper

Like intersecting beams of multicolored light on a stage, James Busby’s ‘Rehearsals For Depature’ demands attention from outside the storefront window of RandallScottProjects, absorbing the searing whiteness of the gallery walls. Transparent flashes of blue and yellow overlap zigzagging red and green stripes, creating a disorienting optical blend. Creeping over the edge of the panel, a dark, metallic shard interrupts the flow of color, while continuing the patterns of reflected light through alternating polished and textured stripes. I check my lipstick in the segmented reflection.

With Busby’s metallic and high-chroma paintings, the new RandallScottProjects makes every effort to draw in visitors who may be wondering what happened to the liquor store that previously occupied the space across from the Bun Shop on Read Street.

Previously located in a second-floor space in Washington, D.C., the gallery moved to the ground-floor Mount Vernon location, a block away from the new XOL Gallery, whose owners also relocated from D.C., to escape the expensive rents of the capital. As New York and D.C. become increasingly difficult and often impossible for artists and galleries to survive in, Baltimore is seeing more galleries like Freddy and XOL cater to wealthy audiences from the safety of cheap buildings. And it doesn’t hurt to be in the cultural hub of Mount Vernon, right between two-state designated arts districts, either.

However, as founder Randall Scott promised when we spoke to him in August, the gallery is already making an effort to work with local artists. Before opening its new location on Nov. 8, the gallery announced via Facebook that it is now representing Sarah Jacobs, a Baltimore-based painter. In the past, Scott has also worked with Bmoreart editor and former CP contributor Cara Ober.

But, for its inaugural exhibition, RandallScottProjects isn’t hosting a Baltimore artist, or even bringing in someone from Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles (where he previously worked as an art dealer).  Instead, he turned to Busby, who is from South Carolina, whose highly formalist stripe and grid paintings the gallery previously exhibited in its D.C. location. On each panel, which vary in shape and scale, Busby layers geometric textures, lines, and forms, so that when viewed more closely a complexity slowly develops beyond the immediate stripes-and-shapes image. This dynamic is almost completely invisible in photographic reproductions—a pleasant reminder of the richness and complexity of unpixelated paint.

Though the paintings seem to be made from industrial metal, Busby actually uses traditional painting materials: gesso, oil, acrylic, and graphite. The graphite is the surprise element. Rather than being drawn on with a stick or pencil, it is spread over the canvas in polished, enamel-like layers. Patterns are scratched into the smoothed graphite and gesso surfaces in the form of digitally rendered scores, or, in ‘Rehearsals For Departure,’ the most colorful piece, a hand-drawn texture. The ridges perforate the light reflecting from the surface as you move around the work.

At first, the paintings appear almost factory-made, until you notice the small drips or chunks spilling over the edges, making the objects more human and less intimidating. It’s in these subtle but satisfying moments that Busby lets go of his apparent obsession with hardness and control of line, shape, and texture, especially in the large, commanding ‘Eyes For Windows.’ The piece is entirely covered in graphite, save for the fluorescent blue-painted sides and the inner edges of the internally cut-out shapes, where the artist’s hand becomes apparent. In ‘Trap Door’ a rectangular border extends beyond the side of the panel, where it becomes wrapped in crusty, black-painted burlap. Functioning almost like a handle, the extension grounds the painting as an object and not merely a graphic image.

In ‘Swivel Stare,’ horizontal graphite stripes unevenly interlock at the center like a jagged key. Either half of the painting is winged by cut-outs, which also seem like they could function as handles, as if the painting could be pulled apart. Masked by the graphite, washed-out strips of red, blue, and yellow running in every direction create an even but slight distribution of color. Each side of the panel is painted a bold green, yellow, or blue, pushing the surface of the panel off the wall.

Most of the panels deviate from the standard rectangle, if only slightly. ‘Make Believe’ appears to fit typical painting dimensions until you see the notches in the edges, smoothed by the polished graphite covering the majority of the panel. It’s the only piece without patterns scored into the surface. Instead, light is reflected from a flat white polygon, the contour of which is interrupted by a small teal triangle. Two lines, tensely bent from the edges of the painting into the polygon, introduce a diagrammatic element to the image. That element also appears in ‘Zero Orchestra’ and ‘Gold Fume,’ which begin to resemble city maps. While the latter is contained in a perfect rectangle, a section parallel to the edges protrudes slightly beyond the plane of the panel.

The exhibition is a fairly safe choice to kick off the gallery’s program: The paintings are loud without being offensive or outlandish. Once you’re in the gallery, the detail and craftsmanship (or your own reflection) keep you looking. Then there’s the “how’d he do that?” factor. And it’s certainly marketable, even if  photographs cannot do Busby’s work justice. We welcome the gallery in the hope Scott’s entrepreneurship will help make art in Baltimore more profitable. But we also hope artists can continue to take risks that are harder to take in market-dominated scenes. 


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