Iron Curtain on Grounds



There is a section of the Berlin wall from the Hefner Collection being displayed on UVA grounds near the Alderman Library. The four sections of concrete barrier contain two murals by the graffiti artist Dennis Kaun. The bright paintings depict two kings. One is a bright-eyed smiling king and other is frowning and blindfolded. The content of the mural is obvious but poignant and the slabs of wall are stunning to look at.

The presentation of the work however is highly bizarre. The section of wall is encased in a protective and clean glass prism. An additional industrial-utilitarian structure of i-beams creates a second prism around the first. Supported above is a large plate of iron with four short slats cut around the edges which give the plate a resemblance to a lily pad.

The harsh quality of the rusted metal speaks in the same language as the wall itself: rigid, hard, heavy and immutable. These qualities which define the wall as a considerable obstruction between freedom and enslavement are interrupted (destroyed) by the careful protective glass bubble, which yells, “Hey! I am now an expensive art object! You can appreciate me but only as far as my owner is comfortable with the extent of my vulnerability!”

This sentiment, omnipresent in museums and often galleries, would not bother me so much if it were not so contrary to the symbolism of the wall and the thin illicit challenge scrawled on its back.

Rather than stand in awe at that wall which divided nations and world powers for a quarter century, I am compelled more to consider how much of a liability the Hefner Collection considers the UVA student body.

Paper: On, Of

Drawing by Sarah C. Green

Drawing by Sarah C. Green

The current group show a McGuffey, “Paper: On, Of” has a wide range of works on paper.

Some, like the clean precise drawings of Sarah C. Green, are quite classic and classy. Though their compositions are lifeless and drab, like an extended cast-study requested by a drawing instructor and executed dutifully by a skilled student, Green’s drawings of marble sculptures on toned paper are rendered well enough to almost (ALMOST) transcend their simplicity.

Others, like Stacey Evans‘ archival prints, are whimsical and light-hearted. Evan’s digital-snapshot-era collages have a fantastic design aesthetic, but also serve as simple reminders of how much fun is is to take and manipulate photographs. Her work seems to echo the sentiments of colloquial photography which appears everywhere in social media.

Like many of McGuffey’s shows the curatorial premise is a little shaky, the consistent paperly-ness of the works would be the last aspect which I would be inclined to comment upon. However, I found myself enjoying meandering through gallery nonetheless, propelled mostly by the consistent craft of the works.

Artists participating in the show are John A. Hancock, McCrae Snyder Kudravetz, Chee Kludt Ricketts, Sara C. Green, Liz Gregory, Tracy Verkerke, Scott Smith, Stacey Evans, and Margaret Embree.

Let there be Light



We by James Yates

We are writing to share with you the fabulous annual exhibit we attended last night, “Let There Be Light” at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Every year at this time, PVCC puts on a show centered around light and illumination. It is a unique experience which changes every year. Artists from the art department and around town create all sorts of art objects and installations that come alive as the sky dims. Patrons are given a flash light, a map and their choice of hot chocolate or hot cider and are invited to walk around in the cold, at night, to bask in the artistic light. This year Russell Richards, a local artist, created a glow in the dark map, which we used to navigate, and we able to “charge” at light stations along the way!

There was a very large technological presence in this years event, which translated to many works required direct viewer involvement. “We” by James Yates required that several people stand very close to one another to reveal a set of “instructions” that were projected onto their chest. “Quiet,” “Comfort” and “Commune,” were among the words used. There were a set of interactive noise making robots by a group called “Neocybernetic Carols.” The robots respond to movement, light and noise made by viewers. They then respond with light and sound. One machine had a set of lighted “buttons” that were programmed to strike a guitar string. From there, the sound was amplified and projected through speakers.
“Symmetry Dance” captured the movement of three illuminated globes. Viewers were allowed to hold and move the globes around, in front of a camera. The camera then recorded the movement of the globes and through the use of some strange algorithm, transferred the images into a thin spirographic shape which was then projected above the viewers onto a sheet that was strung from the trees.

Other works were more direct. “Divine Photo Op” by Beryl Solla offered the opportunity for viewers to “become” the glowing Virgin Mary. ”Hoop Dreams” by Rich Tarbell involved the use of LED hula-hoops.  There was even a wonderful dance performance put on that utilized white clothing, masks, acrobatics and black lights!

We apologize for the wobbly nature of the photos. We didn’t bring our tripod.
But we did want to share because we thought the show really embodied the idea of illumining the darkest season of the year with togetherness, hot chocolate and art! It was exciting to see so many people from the art community and beyond attending the event.

It really was beautiful and so much fun.

Happy Holidays!
Rose and A.I.Miller

The Whimsical World of Jessie Meehan












The Firefish Gallery is currently showcasing a collection of works by local artist Jessie Meehan, which offers an approach to painting that is refreshing and imaginative.

The body of work, titled “Tiny Lights” is united by many elements, including the use of white pin points; stars or “tiny lights” that show up in each piece. The artist also layers geometric shapes in every piece, creating a sense of space and movement through the use of visual building blocks. In addition, her contrast of warm and cool colors creates a rich palette that throbs with light. It is exciting to see crisp clean paint application that is technically precise, and forms that are rendered with a believable sense of lighting. Furthermore, the fun, unusual narratives that develop out of the work are vibrant and unexpected.

It is interesting to note that the artist does not always enter into a project with a predetermined plan.  This leads to varying degree of successes in the work. Some of Meehan’s paintings develop a strong sense of invention. The layered forms accentuate a specific mood and narrative. However a few of her paintings seem loose and uncongealed. Maheen’s stream-of-conscious process creations, by their nature, trend toward the generic, and when not carefully directed they become murky. For example, “From the Rooftop” looks almost impressionistic in parts and highly illustrative in others. The landscape refused to become or remain a landscape and the sense of atmosphere is solely supported by curious and wispy balls of light. The forms are not grounded, and the paint application is erratic at times. Comparatively, “On the Night the Opossum Died, Cicadas Came to Kiss Her Eyes” feels like a finished thought. The composition is designed to spiral out from the focal point, the colors are consistent throughout, and the paint application is clean, conveying the story concisely.

Overall, Meehan combines an interesting painting technique with a good color sensibility and an intriguing mix of pattern, repetition, fantastical realism and unusual composition. The show is just fun! It’s as simple as that.


~Rose Guterbock and Aaron Miller

Serendipitea – Laura Peery’s Imaginative Teapots


In Laura Peery‘s current show, Serendipitea, there is a very cute balance between the clean craft and the perfectly poetic kitsch of her teapots.

The North Gallery of the Earl V. Dickerson Building at PVCC is lined with a dozen or so fantastical, bright, and whimsical tea pots, as they were snatched from the table of the Mad Hatter. The pottery is displayed on pedestals surrounded by museum-style plexiglass prisms. The teapots are sculpted as though they are made from fabric. Some resemble thick canvas, others mimic stitched leather. Each is uniquely decorated with an assortment of multi-media ornamentation, including clay flowers and leaves, buttons, metal pins, and white ribbons with words printed on them. Some of the white ribbons are made of clay, but many are printed magnets, like the sets sold to liven refrigerator doors. These words seems to sprout and grow from organic seams of the teapots. They read like disjointed cut-up poetry, but with words of calm and joy. They epitomize the mass youth dream of the tea party.

The way the sculptures are displayed makes their functionality irrelevant. I have a small yearning to pour brewed tea from them, but I am suspicious that the forms of Peery’s objects are not designed to enhance such steeping. Instead, the teapots are presented almost like archaeological finds. Their display as cultural and aesthetic art objects on the one hand makes the work less tangible as we cannot run our fingers over the myriad textured surfaces. On the other hand, this allows us a vantage point to consider and analyze these manifested teapots of dreams and imagine the wonderland worlds they originated from.

The show is well worth the short drive down route 20.

~Aaron Miller and Rose Guterbock

The quirky and fantastical universe of Rob Browning


Rob Browning‘s paintings currently on display at PVCC‘s South Gallery is a less coherent series than his recent show at Warm Springs Gallery. However I find the variety of painting executions to be much more appealing.

The content of this show is strange and disjointed. Some images like Mermaid are eerie and surreal. Others are nostalgic and meditative, others still are rebellious and youthful. The title of the show is “Safe as Houses” and Browning’s paintings seems to echo this thought. We are given short glimpses into the comfort zones of several disparate inhabitants of Browning’s universe. The most familiar and relatable image is a slowly-drifting zeppelin woman, almost asleep. We have the serene sense of safety in the warm light of her cabin room.

Browning’s work continues to suffer from minute technical issues, in particular his edges, which are abrupt and jarring, and resolution issues throughout his canvases. His painting, Mermaid, is a wonderful small glazed portrait of a haunting, large-eyed woman. Behind her is a bright blue sky, a distant horizon line, and a small tail emerging over her left shoulder. The lack of resolution in the mermaid tail is a little disappointing though it lends itself to the quirky vibe of the image. Other resolution issues spot this painting as well, particularly on the strangely flat, un-modeled teeth. Despite these moments, the show as a whole exhibits broad exploration of paint applications, from a softly glazed telephone to a matte finished smoking suburban girl.

Browing’s work is caught between illustration and painting. There are moments I see a distinct love of the medium, and others I see graphic labors undertaken. If he were to push in either direction his work could be impeccable.

His current series is on display with Kaki Dimock’s equally intriguing illustrative works in PVCC’s South Gallery.

~ Aaron Miller and Rose Guterbock

Lindsey Obergs’s encaustic allegories


The dreamlike encaustic collages of Lindsey Oberg currently on display at Mudhouse on the Downtown Mall have a soft, ethereal quality. The medium is unusual, and something not seen very often. It is indicative of an artist who has experimented with and fully understood her medium of choice. Although collage can often become flat and heavy, these paintings create vast spaces and landscapes with a surreal, kitschy mystical vibe.

The images are collages with thick layers of encaustic wax and oil paint on the surface. A variety of photographs and objects, some old and full of history, are embedded in the surface of the images.

The painting aspect in each image is minimal and apparent primarily in the animal figures and the atmospheric washes. The painting is good, almost great. While there is a sense of care in the craft of the painting, the animals often look copied from nature photographs. This makes the animal seem out of place, more like collage than painting. This is evident in the larger work which contains an elephant with odd dark shadows indicative of bright sunlight. It’s not bad, it’s more eerie, and begs the question “Why paint at all rather than only collage?”

Several of the images are fantastically executed. In one, a black bear peers over a small ridge in the bottom left of the image, at a fort of sorts, which has been constructed there by the artist. Each element is made with simplicity in mind and the composition is seamless. In another, beneath the layers of wax, doodles and sketchy drawings of building emerge, which are amazing and perfect for their contrasted purposeful marks.

Oberg does a great job of being wild and low key at the same time. Furthermore, her work is beautiful. Although a few seem arbitrarily aesthetic, which is to say highlighting design rather than content, the show is predominantly fun and immersive. Each poetic label is intriguing to read and allows the viewer to wallow in the artwork’s allegorical implications.

It is worth noting that The Mudhouse often has interesting artworks on display. Some shows have been more successful than others but this display is certainly a success. It  is nice to see a local gallery like Le Yeux De Monde working in collaboration with a local business to bring good art to the people.

~Aaron Miller and Rose Guterbock

Hong Seong Jang’s mostly tiled floor


Material based sculpture can be immensely captivating, transforming everyday and unexpected objects through scale, quantity, and precision of assembly into breathtaking constructions. The untitled work of Hong Seong Jang currently installed at the Second Street Gallery falls into this category. Like many found object works of art, however, it struggles with the contrast between low quality materials and their re-purposing as a sculptural medium.

There are two aspects to the installation. Dark images on the walls appear to be scratchboards, a matte black surface with a silvery image peeking though. A closer look reveals a matte black surface with tiny strips of frosty cello tape layered one on top of the other to reveal an image. The small pieces of tape are crisp edged and architectural, they seem almost computer generated, like a 1980′s imagining of future graphics. The image is that of dark forests and clouds which swim into focus through an unusual play of light. The forests are lit as though a bright light shines into the trees on an overcast pitch-dark night.

These works are transformative, which is to say the medium is revealed only upon close inspection. The image of fluffy clouds seems like the work of a procrastinating office worker passing hours in his cubicle. The images seem to capture a feeling of haunted longing, with cold office materials imagining the dark natural world far beyond. While the works are beautiful and interestingly crafted, the images overall seem more meditative for the artist than interesting for the viewer.

Turning away from the images on the wall, there is a large installation covering the floor. Laminate squares lay side by side, each with a design gaudier then the last. Some of the laminate squares rise up to form short walls, small obstructions, or obstacles. They seem to be climbing objects in a child’s playground or the slick short walls of a bath house.

The artist’s attempted transformation of the space fills the gallery with a bright play of colors. However the initial sense of wonder fades quickly as the piece suffers from a lack of scale. The artist statement refers to the floor of the Sistine chapel as inspiration for the piece. The laminate squares stop abruptly leaving a large portion of the wall bare, which heightens the cheap feeling of the laminate and leaves the room feeling incomplete. While the artist may have intentionally done this to contrast the illusion of his installation with the nature of his materials, it diminishes the effect of the altered environment and costs the viewer the unexpected experience of an exotic mosaic tiled floor.

There is something missing, whether it be the a larger sense of extravagance, a complete and purposeful over-taking of the gallery space, or an understanding on the artist’s part of how to carry a message through. The piece is curious and engrossing, but it somehow manages to miss the mark.

~ Rose Guterbock and Aaron Miller

Émilie Charmy – A Visceral Voice at The Fralin Museum of Art

Self-Portrait with an Album by Émilie Charmy, c. 1907–1912

Self-Portrait with an Album by Émilie Charmy, c. 1907–1912

The Émilie Charmy retrospective currently on display at the Fralin Museum of Art is perplexing.

Most of her paintings have a fierce inquisitive quality. Her application of paint gives expressive life to simple compositions. Single thick brush strokes resolve into a small elegant wrist or a delicate twist of hair. Although a few paintings, like “Nu tentant son sein,” seem merely fast and crude, her work cultivates a rough and layered visceral quality. The show culminates with a painting so thickly built, it brings to mind the Balzac story “Unknown Masterpeice.” Mounds of paint construct an obscure image, a self portrait, which viewers experience more through the care of each brush stoke than the foggy edged figure which haunts the picture plane.

While Charmy’s craft is fascinating to explore, her content is slightly odd. Her paintings initially seem to be an artifact of her times, nudes reminiscent of Manet’s Olympia and blocked color scenes recalling the primitivism of Gauguin’s landscapes. However as one studies the paintings, it seems that Charmy shifts the focus on the female-body-object to include an immediate sensuality. She has also created distinct moments which build notes of fashion and character in her figures. These notes however are subtle, and her images threatened to settle into the niche of patriarchal misogynist images which dominate much of art history and particularly the canvases of Charmy’s contemporaries. This is not inherently bad, it is only to say that Charmy is more distinct for her rugged love and care for painting, than for the fact that she was a female artist during the time in which she lived.

As such, the Fralin does Charmy a disservice when it describes her as “one of the most original female voices of modern art in Paris during the first half of the 20th century.” Rather Émilie Charmy should simply be described as one of the most exquisitely inquisitive and visceral voices in modern expressive painting.

Art at the Hospital: Some Thoughts on Aesthetics and Medicine

A Landscape by Tom Tartaglino at the UVA Medical Center

A Landscape by Tom Tartaglino at the UVA Medical Center

This summer, I have had reason to notice art in a few unlikely places around town: at the local hospitals.

Member artist at McGuffey Art Center, Lindsey Oberg, had new mixed media works on display at Martha Jefferson Hospital in June. “In the Country” by Richard Bednar and “Sightings,” a collection of photographs by Frank Feigert have been featured in the Main Hospital lobby of the UVA Medical Center for the summer months as well. In addition to the featured shows, there is also a surprising amount of artwork on permanent display there.

There was a time when hospitals were crisp, clean, immaculately sterilized, and notorious for “that hospital smell.” Nowadays, it seems that ideas in medicine are changing. Aesthetics are upheld more frequently, and there is a higher appreciation for the impact of our surroundings on our psyche and mental well-being.

There are several examples in art therapy practices where the experience of beauty and positive interactions are used to aid traditional medicine. Recently, several window washers visited Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital as superheros, bringing smiles and joy to the patients. The UVA medical center also has a group of “clowns” that volunteer on a weekly basis. “Compassionate Clowning” is meant to provide comfort and emotional support to patients and family by creating an environment that alleviates anxiety and stress. There was even a recent study in which it was found that patients undergoing surgery while music is played remain calmer and cope better during their recovery compared to patients who are operated on in silence.

It might be easy to conclude that showing art in a medical setting may have similar effects. The previous example of window washer heroes bears resemblances to happenings from the 1980′s. Art is a very broad medium of expression, and through the very crafting process itself, it can showcase, embrace or entice a huge array of emotions.

So why is it that much of the art on display at the hospitals feels like an afterthought? Obviously, our taxpayers may not want to feel as though their money is being used to fund art as opposed to medical research. However the timid patchwork curation which currently inhabits the hospital halls is a far cry from what it could be.

Even considering that as a state funded institution and hospital which must be largely non-confrontational, much of the work on display seems like an apology. Prints are stuck behind glass and unobtrusively hung behind counters. The primary display wall at the UVA medical center is a small patch of gray, hugging a corner at the entrance to the cafeteria. Here and there we find permanent pieces, a bust of Thomas Jefferson by a pillar, a large oil painting of a landscape by Tom Tartaglino adorning the wall space across from the President’s office (the only piece on the ever extending wall of a long hallway.) Some pieces are hung in honor of donors or patients. But none seem to be placed with intent, pride, or any semblance of a flourish.

It is unfortunate since so much of the work has obviously been chosen with care by some unknown person at the hospital. The paintings and sculptures are beautifully crafted. Each brushstroke vibrates with individuality. The bronze castings of heads stare thoughtfully, it is as if the artwork is begging to suddenly become more significant.

Art can, of course, be thought of as just another pretty thing to look at or to cover walls, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In the play of light and form, stories can be told, memories drawn out, dare I say, wounds could be healed.

~Rose Guterbock and Aaron MIller