CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Shades of gray: Liddell pencils it in

Every week, the students enrolled in Drawing II at Piedmont Virginia Community College post their work in the hall outside their first-floor classroom in the V. Earl Dickenson Building. It's fascinating to watch as they work through getting a still life arrangement to sit on a table– rather than appearing to float above it– or grapple with rendering the subtle dimensions of draped fabric. Basic skills? Yes. Easy to master? Not at all.

Which is why anyone who has struggled with such creative problems will especially appreciate Ana Marie Liddell's exhibition, "The World of Silence," currently on view at Angelo. Liddell's six large pencil drawings are quiet studies of tranquil still life compositions, yet they practically scream, "Hey, look what I can do!"

Each image reflects Liddell's formidable skills as a drawer. It almost seems as if she designed the compositions specifically to test her technical ability. In two pieces, she arranges a series of plump pears amid subtly textured white ceramic dishes on top of a creased and wrinkled tablecloth. Elsewhere, a smooth, rounded stone and a few crumpled leaves ornament a double-decker bridge constructed from heavily chipped rocks. 

In every case, Liddell excels in rendering a realistic yet exquisitely delicate image. Using minute, barely detectable marks, she creates a vast range of tones to accurately depict the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows of her straightforward yet subtly complex compositions. Her deft shading extends to the reflection of light in the negative space surrounding her objects. Liddell's intensity of focus combined with the lightness of her hand is impressive.

Although her drawings are primarily a sea of grays, every now and then Liddell introduces color. In "Still Life in Blue II," she presents a meditative arrangement of flowerpots and seashells. Her use of blue is so subtle that it's easy to overlook. Liddell includes a bit in the raffia ribbon tied around the central pot, and adds a tinge to the shading in several shells. The effect is as quiet as a whisper.

In their closely observed realism, Liddell's drawings call to mind painter Tim O'Kane's small still lifes. But where O'Kane's compositions often give the viewer a wink and a nudge, Liddell's pieces are utterly without irony. Although some works offer a somber sense of drama– particularly, the rock bridge pieces– what's really on show is Liddell's superlative technique using the lightest of marks to create weight and dimension.


Ana Marie Liddell's exhibition, "The World of Silence," is on show at Angelo through the end of April. 220 E. Main St. 971-9256.