Foreign correspondence: Travels with Bob and Cindy

Bob Anderson, "Jungle Ridge Above Rio Frio."
Bob Anderson, "Jungle Ridge Above Rio Frio."

A recent article by Benedict Carey in The New York Times addresses how being thrown out of one's element sparks intellectual growth and concludes, "at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking." For Bob Anderson and Cynthia Burke, who both have exhibitions at the McGuffey Art Center, disorientation also begets creative production.

Each artist's work emerged from traveling abroad. Anderson found himself trekking through Costa Rican jungle on a bachelor-party expedition that preceded his son's wedding. The tropical lushness captured his imagination and reminded him of his childhood in Hawaii. Burke, for her part, traveled to China and became enamored with the historical mystery of ancient objects, what they contained and who might have used them. When Anderson and Burke returned home, they both put brush to canvas.

Anderson's "Green Mansions" consists primarily of oversized oil-on-linen "junglescapes." The artist cum architect cum illustrator cum book publisher adopts a not-quite-realistic painting style that seems to mix Rousseau's stylized jungles, comic book art, and an approach to primordial forests reminiscent of children's dinosaur books. The colors are exaggerated, and a certain flatness prevails.

Although Anderson is clearly invested in his subject matter, too often his paintings veer toward being simply "green walls." His most successful works provide viewers with a focal point, such as a root-laden tree trunk or spider monkeys scampering through the canopy.

By far, the strongest piece in the show is "Dicerorhinini," a spellbinding rapidograph pen-and-ink that Anderson began nine years ago. Three quarters of the drawing depicts a jungle rife with flora and fauna. The more one looks, the more animals one sees, including a portrait of the artist au naturel. The drawing's right edge, however, provides a bleak comment on deforestation, as an overweight family in Mickey Mouse ears sits on a stump in front of a bulldozer and steam shovel.

In contrast to Anderson's scenic paintings, Burke's "China," offers a more interior response to travel. The show comprises three of Burke's familiar animal portraits, three large mystical paintings, and numerous small oils of beautifully rendered containers-a brass-inlaid wooden box, a blue-and-white chinoiserie vase-that invite contemplation.

Dedicated to meticulous presentation, Burke surrounds these smaller images with stenciled frames meant to replicate the eaves in China's Forbidden City. Unfortunately, the frames' intense blue, green, and gold stencils distract from the delicately colored paintings.

Shortcomings aside, by stepping outside the studio, both Anderson and Burke travel in new artistic directions.

Bob Anderson's "Green Mansions" and Cynthia Burke's "China" are on view at the McGuffey Art Center through November 1. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.