Bold statements at DAG and Golden Belt

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 05:29 PM

“New Perspectives of the Unordinary,” Durham Art Guild, 120 Morris St., through Aug. 3.

“A Shot At The Big Time Or Happiness Is A Warm Glock:  New Paintings by Cat Manolis,” Room 100, Golden Belt, 807 E. Main St., Durham Art Guild, through July 28.

Art as fantasy and reality as art. At the Durham Art Guild, the offerings are anything but serene landscapes or classical portraits; they are intuitive, fanciful, innovative objects by artists who have pushed themselves out of their comfort zone. At the Guild’s Room 100 Gallery in Golden Belt, Cat Manolis is having her say about guns. Neither of these exhibitions are the same-old, same-old, so be sure to see them before the end of the month.
In this third theme show by the Guild, 44 artists express the “unordinary” with
paint, fiber, video, metal and mirrors. The prize winners are Damian Stamer for “Dream
Hotel 2.1,” a painting that looks like an old photograph; Lauri Arntsen for “Midnight
Reckoning,” a small gem-like painting made of encaustic and found objects; and Kelsey Melville for “Myriad Visions,” a statue of a standing faun, wrapped from head to hoof in yarn, beneath a mobile of clay antlers.
The three-dimensional objects demand our attention just by their position in the middle of the gallery and jutting out from the walls. There is Lynn Wartski’s “Recycled Flow,” a beautifully constructed bevy of jelly fish in plastic and copper wire and Warren Hicks’ “Boozy the Texting Bear” riding into the wall on his three wheel bike with his cell phone flying off into space. 
The moving picture is also here.  “Elevation: Durham Under Construction” is a multimedia offering by a group of artists -- Ned Phillips, Aaron Mandel and Eli McDuffee -- who combine video, photography and a comment board to mourn the loss of open space filling up with new condos. In the video a man joyfully flies a kite in an empty field near Durham’s Ninth Street, the very precise photograph is of a construction site emblazoned with a sign that reads “” and then there is the comment board which is filled mostly with poetic rather than strident remarks. Another video, Cora Lin’s “Dove Revive,” sits on the floor so the viewer looks into the screen from the same vantage point as the actor who washes her hands with Dove soap over and over.
With mirrors, see-through screens and an oil painting, David and Chrystal Hardt offer “Echo and Narcissus.” At one angle the viewers see their reflections; at another they see themselves and the room behind them. Walk around to the other side and we contemplate “Echo and Narcissus” in oil. Given time, there is much to reflect on.
On the wall are a number of photographs, paintings and fabric wall hangings which are equally intriguing. In Heather Evans Smith’s two photographs we see, in one, a woman caught by giant ropes and, in the other, by flowing chiffon. Eleatta Diver’s “Cold Shoulders” begins as a traditional painting of three women who fill the space with their boas of flaming pinks, oranges and purples. When we read her gallery statement we learn Diver has covered her surface with paper towels used in the studio to clean brushes and spills or to wipe off a canvas. 
Murry Handler produces an abstract shape in wide swaths of black paint and intersects it with large and small pieces of aluminum foil. Jeana Eve Klein uses recycled fabric to show us an abandoned dirty and decayed bathroom littered with pink curlers, caked tooth paste and a toilet whose seat has long since disappeared. This show is artistic fantasy at its best.
Guns are Cat Manolis’ subject at Golden Belt and she minces no ideas in her sharp-edged realistic scenes. Using compositions that seem to hark back to 19th century hunting scenes, Manolis pictures hunters aiming at what might be birds in flight but are actually teenagers, one a bouncing cheerleader and, the other, a baton twirler.  In her signature piece, which announces her show, a typical suburban house is the backdrop for an ape flaunting two 9mm Glocks against outlines of fighting American soldiers.
A living room sofa and the wall behind it are the subject of “Girls Just Wanna Have Guns,” 2013 and centered on patterned wall paper above a sofa is an automatic pink rifle nestled onto a gun rack. Manolis also puts guns in the hands of heroes and heroines in take-offs on famous paintings. There is Elizabeth I with the jeweled orb in one hand and a rifle in the other. There is also, “I’ll Tell You, By the Way, the Greatest Comfort in the World,” a portrait of Paul Revere, the American hero, with his rifle tucked under his arm.
“Liberty Leading the People,” is also here, but not at the barricades of the French Revolution; the giant mythological heroine charges forth brandishing her automatic rifle with the American flag trailing behind. And to top it all off the artist paints Mao moving toward a group of headless men, dressed in jeweled formal jackets waving cell phones, not guns. The artist faces down new gun freedoms using her art with a vengeance. 
In these two shows the sponsoring institution, the Durham Art Guild, has invited artists to have a say about issues, political or whimsical, and somewhere in between. These are not commercial galleries, so selling is not an issue. Although public spaces do have to answer to their sponsors, those involved should fearlessly encourage political art and the artists should not be afraid to speak their mind. We are accustomed to the written political word but painters and sculptors making bold statements in oil, acrylic and metal are not the general rule in the Triangle. It is what public spaces should be about. However, these places should be where conversations of all sorts can happen, spurred on by artists who are willing to begin the discussion.

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.