Hints of hope in a bleak vision, ‘Under the Cover of Night,’ Zo Gallery, Baltimore

On a day of tragedy in Baltimore, caused by a container ship's collision with the Key Bridge, the ensuing bridge collapse and loss of lives, we are thinking of the city and its people, and about other cities and peoples that depend on infrastructure that is fragile. How vulnerable we all are! Our Baltimore contributor Dereck Mangus, in a review written before this tragedy, will tell you about an exhibit that touches on tragedy -- human and ecological. Dereck says, "Our contemporary world is full of calamities and injustices. 'Under the Cover of Night' at Zo Gallery in Baltimore provides a commentary on our critical moment, while also creating a space in which to consider these tragedies and work towards a better future." The exhibit is up through Friday, March 29, with a closing reception from 6-9pm. Here's to building a better future. Peace and love.

In a painting, a faceless figure wrapped in what looks like a tattered Stars and Stripes flag stands, icon-like in front of two mountains and a plain dotted with crosses signifying graves.
“All of Those That Made It” by Alfonso Fernandez. Acrylic on canvas (2018). Photo by Dereck Stafford Mangus

In Under the Cover of Night, on view through this Friday at Zo Gallery on the western edge of Hampden in Baltimore, artists Alfonso Fernandez and Andrew Paul Keiper negotiate the difficult terrain of our contemporary landscape. From the hardships of itinerant communities fleeing their homelands due to economic collapse and political turmoil; to the devastation of nature, Fernandez and Keiper present a bleak vision of a world gone wrong. And yet, hints of hope emanate throughout this challenging exhibition.

With Alfonzo Fernandez’s acrylic painting “All of Those That Made It,” the title alone hints at a silver lining. Draped in a tattered and grayed-out American flag, a faceless figure fills the canvas. Anonymous, with mountains at their back and their face a flat mirror of the sky, they stand in a sea of crosses facing the viewer. Can they see us? Do we see them? Cruciforms flood the hills beyond, leading our eyes skyward to two mountains recalling Cézanne’s “Mont Sainte-Victoire.” A lone white cross glows atop the second peak as though catching the last rays of the setting sun. Another cross in the background commingles with the stars in the foregrounded flag, complicating the picture’s depth. The largest work in the show, “All of Those That Made It” commemorates on a monumental scale the migrant deaths that came before this solitary traveler could get here. Wraithlike, our wandering cipher moves ever forward towards a distant land, the safety of their new home still to come.

An atmospheric painting shows three cowboys on horses wearing hats, the one in front wearing a white badge of authority on his left shoulder. The three are paused in a dusty, ambiguous haze.
“Hunted” by Alfonso Fernandez. Acrylic on panel (2019). Photo by Dereck Stafford Mangus

For “Hunted,” Fernandez scored the picture’s surface prior to rendering an impressionistic tableau of men riding horses in what might be a dust storm. Their faces are obscured. There is no horizon line. The dreamlike scene is how Monet might paint a passage from a Cormac McCarthy novel. The men and their steeds are swallowed up by the land around them. They become a part of it. Where might figuration end and landscape begin? The riders ride on as a blood-red sun trickles down in the silvery sky behind them.

Two large color photographs in a diptych depict trees, the left photo shows a grove of trees that are dead and the right photo shows blooming yellow flowers at the base of the trees: new growth.
“Standing Dead (Medicine Bowl)” and “Blooms in the Cinders (Medicine Bowl),” by Andrew Paul Keiper. Photographs and sound installation (2023). Photo by Dereck Stafford Mangus

Meanwhile, Andrew Paul Keiper combines 2-D media—a triptych of an ink drawing and photographs—with an immersive sound installation that fills the space, aurally connecting the two artists’ work. While Fernandez addresses people in the landscape, Keiper focuses on its destruction, both by natural forces and by man-made means. Keiper, whose grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project, is especially drawn to sites where nuclear bombs were tested in the 1950s before above-ground tests were banned by the U.S. and Soviet Union. Though the Cold War ended decades ago, the ground here remains hot. As documented in a series of photographs by Keiper, metal signs affixed to barbed-wire fences warn of the land’s radioactive contamination.

A gallery space shows a white wall with two large color photographs of nature at the left and a painting, very atmospheric, of three cowboys, one a police officer, on a hunt for illegal immigrants at the US border.
Interior space of Zo Gallery in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. Photo by Dereck Stafford Mangus

Continuing with the theme of hope amidst tragedy, one of Keiper’s images is more encouraging: in “Blooms and Cinders (Medicine Below),” tiny yellow flowers blow in the breeze at the foot of a charred tree after a wildfire, reminding us that life bounces back in the wake of catastrophe. Though the first half of this diptych—a bleak grove of burned trees—is less optimistic, when taken together, enhanced by Keiper’s poignant soundscape, the images and sounds all mix together, creating an amalgam that stops you in your tracks.

At its best, art provides us with a brief reprieve from the madness. By taking the time to seek out new art, we as viewers complete the process of risk and reward that artists initiate. These two creators explore complex themes through their individual visions, and we are invited to contemplate their findings. Our contemporary world is full of calamities and injustices. Under the Cover of Night at Zo Gallery in Baltimore provides a commentary on our critical moment, while also creating a space in which to consider these tragedies and work towards a better future.

A closing reception for Under the Cover of Night will be held this Friday, March 29th, from 6–9pm:
Zo Gallery, 3510 Ash Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

For more coverage of Baltimore’s vibrant art scene, check out these posts by Dereck Stafford Mangus and other Artblog contributors.

A sign on a city street in Baltimore says “Open, Zo Gallery” with dripping hot pink letters that are graffiti influenced. The gallery is in the western side of Baltimore, Hampden section.