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Coffee, whiskey, and Art in Station North

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Walking into Bohemian Coffee House on North Charles Street, one may recognize a few faces from around Station North—not only sitting in the booths but hanging on the walls. Erick Antonio Benitez has produced a series of portraits depicting familiar characters from the neighborhood. “Part of the inspiration was from an art history background—most paintings are portraits of the rich,” Benitez says from behind the counter, where he happens to be working. “You don’t see people like this from real life.”

The strongest of these portraits features Mr. Tony sitting in his wheelchair up against a beige cinderblock wall wearing his familiar hat. “I did some drawing studies of Mr. Tony from life, hanging out in my apartment, but I also took some photographs.”

Paired with Benitez’s Station North paintings are others featuring Latin American film icons he remembers from his native El Salvador: a brilliant Gaugin-ish study of Cantinflas sitting over a whiskey glass with a cigarette, and another of El Chavo del Ocho in a barrel. “Baltimore has a lot of relationship to Latin America,” Benitez says. “Both struggle for jobs, struggle with poverty, which brings segregation.”

Benitez came to Baltimore to attend Maryland Institute College of Art but never even looked at the school when he visited. “I just loved the city,” he says. “I wanted to live here.”

Benitez shows a rare empathy for his subjects and produced a series of audio recordings to go along with the paintings. “I didn’t want it to be too formal like an interview. I just wanted to record a regular conversation I had with them.”

Also in Station North, Steven Archer is showing a dozen or so dark and witty paintings and mixed-media pieces at Liam Flynn’s Ale House. The small mixed-media pieces on book covers are visually sharp and smart, but it is the depiction of light in these and the larger canvases that really stand out. “Grandmother Manipulator,” one of the stronger of the often politically minded smaller pieces, is marked by a strong sense of the dappled play of light and the depths of shadow on the figure of a grandmother moving chess pieces. Among the larger pieces, “Light as a Form of Violence,” a Gerhard Richter-ish piece full of fire and sharp angles, seems to exemplify Archer’s aesthetic—and it fits perfectly with an Irish whiskey and the songs on Liam’s excellently stocked jukebox.

Neither Bohemian nor Liam’s had a definite end date for their respective shows, but they should be up through the end of the week.

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