Cara Ober is an artist, professor, curator and writer well known for her local arts blog at bmoreart.com. In her new exhibit “Translation,” now open at McDaniel College, she tackles the way people assign value to decorative objects.
“Certain things go into museums and others go into the trash,” said Ober. “Why does this happen?”
Her new works are mixed media with India ink on paper and oil and acrylic on canvas. The pieces are monochromatic, done primarily in black and white with some metallic. The pieces are a collection of series.
Ober said the series are quite different, but the thing they have in common is that they all question the value of decorative objects.
“Value is about context and what people perceive,” said Ober, “and not necessarily based on what the object is.”
Many of the paintings are patterns taken from basic decorative items like wallpaper, rugs and pillows. She has taken decorative objects that are not considered “high art” and translated them into objets d’art.
Ober elevates everyday patterns that she finds beautiful by painting them on canvas.
“When you translate something, you actually have to sort of inhabit it,” Ober said.
Through this process, she said she felt like somewhat of a magpie — borrowing quotes and images and sampling from many different sources.
In her ink and paper work, she may use the form of a classical vase, but decorate it with unexpected quotations and images. Her “Each Time” features portraits of George Washington on a vase with the quote “Each time my heart is broken, it makes me feel more adventurous.”
Gallery curator Steve Pearson said he has known Ober since she was in graduate school and he was a student at McDaniel.
“I’ve seen her do some amazing things with her work over the years,” he said. “It continues to grow and develop.”
Pearson said in Ober’s Tchotchke series she borrowed from pieces in the college’s permanent collection. She took the pattern from a vase and the drawing of a mask and then paired that with a random saying she had previously collected.
“It’s a pretty interesting use of our collection,” he said.
Pearson said in some of Ober’s paintings, she juxtaposes and balances disparate patterns taken from anywhere — from wallpaper to animal prints — and creates a pleasing symmetry. He gave Ober’s “Patina” painting as an example.
“It’s pretty exciting when you look at it. There are so many patterns meeting up with each other,” said Pearson. “It makes a beautiful composition.”