By Betsy DiJulio
Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, large group exhibitions are nothing if not diverse, especially non-juried ones. Some of the offerings are tantalizing, even if not everyone’s taste, some have broad popular appeal, and some are easy to walk past, if not consciously avoid.
The current faculty exhibition at TCC is no different. Yet, it is clear that all of the professionally-presented work—whether more major or more minor pieces in these artists’ oeuvres—represents a serious approach to art-making.
Shelley Brooks, the VAC’s longtime curator, has created a handsome installation of an almost overwhelmingly varied range of both content-rich and technique-intensive work, virtually all of it from 2014: video, photography, fiber, ceramics, glass, wood, encaustic, charcoal, pastel, ink, paint, mixed-media and, well, you get the picture.
So, where does one start? Since it is the holiday season, let’s start with Peter Geiger’s mixed-media painting, “Christmas Tree.” Somewhat familiar with Geiger’s previous quite precisionist work, I was not prepared for the expressiveness in his handling of the pigment.
Beautiful line quality, broad juicy brushstrokes, and restrained drips comprise this cropped image of a hacked-down tree lying on its side. Mere hints of holiday red suggest its previous function. Somehow, Geiger manages to suggest the consumerist and disposable nature of this religious(?) holiday without hitting us over the head with a moralistic message.
Beautiful line quality continues around the corner in a trio of small, spare ink and gouache plant still lifes by Rob Hawkes. Drawn in color on beautifully textured warm brown paper, his calligraphic lines are exquisite: skillfully weighted, broken, and expressive.
In the encaustic, cold wax and oil pieces of Eloise Shelton-Mayo, I discovered a theme which seduced me over and over in unrelated work by other artists, namely the synthesis of past and present. Though her non-objective pieces were stunning, the more jarring were her pair of grim mixed-media photos from the interior of Eastern State Penitentiary, layered and “framed” with exuberantly colored and textured collage elements. The pieces function as a visual equivalent for the ways in which horror and joy coexist in our world, like translucent, flexible and overlapping membranes.
Though I am always drawn to Corinne Lilyard-Mitchell’s handling of paint—her stroke, her palette (here, warm creams, ochres, and umbers), and her quality of light—I appreciate even more her always ambiguous content, consistently hinting at something just beyond what is apparent. In each of a pair of oil portraits, “Claire de Lune” and “Night Moth,’’ moths flit about a beautiful, haloed, and partially-draped woman. Repeated circles function as design elements and symbols.
These sensuously sacred female icons—simultaneously ancient and contemporary—hover over a richly and evocatively built-up surface of newsprint and textured paper motifs lending to the pieces a sense of history and mystery, the artistic equivalent of cryptic palimpsest. If there is any aspect with which to take issue at all, it is perhaps that the heavily impastoed gold metallic haloes are a touch overwhelming for the translucent layering.
Though very different, another captivating and enigmatic female oil portrait, “royal delft/ekphrastic” by b. hennig, shares something of Lilyard-Mitchell’s sensuality and concurrent contemporary and historical synthesis. In this traditionally-posed portrait painted in rich neutrals, blues, greens and corals, a beautiful, though not glamorous woman—perhaps she is even strained and a bit detached and weary—sits in a wooden chair in front of a heavy drape.
In her right hand, she holds a chambered nautilus, a shell associated with sacred geometry and other symbolism. Though, from a distance, she appears dressed in fine blue floral fabric, a closer look reveals her nude torso tattooed with the Royal Delft pattern, a type of inscrutable ekphrasis in which one artistic medium is explored through another.
In terms of three dimensional work—perhaps somewhat weaker overall—I was struck by the deceptively simple elegance and scale of Chad Clark’s “Lamination Reincarnation,” a towering finial-like structure made of laminated wood. Its architectural form, scale, and craftsmanship lend to it a sense of importance and permanence, again with a vibe both ancient and contemporary.
Of Ed Francis’s pair of glass and mixed-media sculptures from his “Memorial Series,” I was especially drawn to “Story of a Boy.” In it, a written narrative spirals around a columnar glass form made of cylinders and cones protected beneath a glass cloche. Again, I found myself responding to what I sensed as the coalescence of the sacred and profane and the ancient and recent. Even though I hadn’t the patience to walk in circles around the pedestal reading/deciphering the story of the boy; it was enough to know it was there.
There is much in this show to nourish the eyes, the heart and the mind; my intention is to leave you hungry for more.
45th Annual TCC Art Faculty Exhibition
Through January 4
TCC Visual Art Center
340 High Street, Olde Towne, Portsmouth, VA