Sculptures, paintings at Craven Allen, Horace Williams House
“Tom Kregel: A Life’s Work in Three Dimensions”; “Chad Hughes: Light Play,” Craven Allen Gallery, 1106 ½ Broad St., Durham, through March 30. For gallery hours, call 919-286-4837.
“Jenny Blazing: The Truck Series,” Horace Williams House, 610 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, through March 24. For information, call 919-942-7818.
The sculptor Tom Kregel (1938-2002) and the painters Chad Hughes and Jenny Blazing are having solo shows in the Triangle.
Kregel, who died of cancer far too young, left an amazing legacy of work and now his widow, Beverly Holcombe, with the help of the folks at Craven Allen, are bringing it to the public for a new look.
Hughes, a painter for many years, continues to ply his talents as an active artist and to pass on some of his professional secrets to a new generation of students at North Carolina Central University.
Blazing has returned to the art she learned in design school after a successful professional business career. In her gallery remarks, she names the teachers who have helped her return to art, and Hughes is one of them.
Kregel was a technical expert in the use of cast stone. The show, a mini-retrospective, focuses on his cast objects with a sprinkling of detailed pen-and-ink drawings and a number of small bronzes. Holcombe and I talked by phone about Kregel’s unbelievable imagination and how he could find an object, change it into a negative image in clay and then turn it into a cement sculpture. A single object could have as many as 45 pieces involved. Holcombe said she believed he developed this technique to satisfy his love for bronze casting. “Bronze is complicated and very expensive and this way he could make his objects in a permanent material which was quicker and much less expensive,” Holcombe said.
Looking around the gallery we see parts of the anatomy, which instead of being gruesome, stand for the whole human being. There is “Hand With Pinkie Ring,” where a hand adorned with a ring juts up from a highly decorated canister. In “Morpheus Ascending I,” the head of a jowly man wearing dark goggles rests comfortably on a pillow that belies its hard surface and looks as comfortable as one made of down. And then there are the feet ensconced in shoes or stirrups that immediately remind us of the coats of mail worn by medieval knights dressed for jousting or battle.
Kregel’s flights of fantasy into a lost world are delightful and funny, and you cannot help but wonder about influences. Holcombe said he always loved things medieval and always filled his world with a marvelous sense of humor. She said after his internship at the La Napoule Art Foundation in Napoule, France, he began creating the legs and feet in shoes, some with high heels, sheathed in armor like that of the knights of the roundtable. In an artist’s statement from a 1998 show at Craven Allen, he encourages viewers to make their own interpretations; the work, he wrote, speaks for itself.
Those feet swathed in coats of mail send me off into my own imagination. These sculptures are small and a bit feminine covered by highly patterned incrustations. I think Kregel was playing with our heads: knights wrapped in armor to keep the world from knowing exactly who they were?
John Bloedorn, director of Craven Allen, said he paired Kregel with Hughes because they had been in several shows together, and while contemporary still-lifes have little or no connection to disembodied sculptural body parts, Hughes’ brilliant colors brighten up the gallery and send a lively spirit across the somber brick reds and muted blues of Kregel’s sculpture. Still-lifes today tell the same story they always did: the fragility of life or a celebration of the beauty of things. Hughes gives us glass, shot through with a sparkle of white to help us understand we are looking at crystal, and fruit so luscious it seems sinful.
The ones that have a wow quality are the pieces of fruit, and even garlic lying on one plate shimmering with liquid colors so rich and tactile we want to touch them to see if they are still wet. The green apples and the buds of garlic become objects of intense interest under the brush of Hughes.
In Chapel Hill, Blazing, a student of Hughes, is having a solo show which focuses on another sort of still life — old cars paired down to the essence of a fender, a hood, an old-fashioned headlamp. Not all her paintings are abstract, however; some are scenes like “Up and Running” where an old roadster sits in front of a house and barn with an oil drum to one side.
Old cars have a mystique all their own and Blazing has caught their essence with her close-ups. In “Lamplight,” for example, she brings us close up to the hood of what has to be a tractor-trailer. As we look, her rectangles and arches coalesce into the hood of the cab and then the trailer, which leads us back into the constricted space of the painting. Her palette of earth reds and blues signifies the rust of age which has settled onto these majestic machines.
In “Reflection on Stu” thick impasto defines the worn surface of an old Studebaker. A tire leans against the fender; she gives us only the left hand edge of the car. Blazing offers us not the ugliness of these old machines, but a walk down memory lane where a dilapidated antique had been an object of beautiful design.
Visiting gallery shows is always so rewarding; these are not masters with museum shows, these are or were working artists who make and made art every day of their lives. They deserve our interest.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at email@example.com or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.