A ‘good art day’ in Chapel Hill

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 10:38 AM

“Cici Stevens:  This Single Wrinkle: Sculptural Installations,”
Horace Williams House, 610 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill through June 29.

“Graphic: Drawings and Prints,” Frank Gallery, 109 E. Franklin St.,
Chapel Hill, through July 6.

“Conversations in Clay:  Pottery by Deborah Harris, Gillian Parke and Evelyn Ward,” Ackland Museum Store, 100 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, through Aug. 10.

It was one of those pretty summer days when the temperature had not soared into the 90s and the downtown Chapel Hill art scene beckoned. I began my visits at the Horace Williams House where Cici Stevens has mounted a show of small found objects. From there I moved uptown to Frank Gallery and a group show of drawings and prints and then across the street to the Ackland Museum Store where they were putting the finishing touches on a pottery exhibit  which would open in a couple of hours.
Stevens calls her show an installation; the objects, things like leaves, tea bags, warning labels, beach finds and garbage debris are treated as small treasures and, as she writes, are “stitched to archival papers floating in elegant frames and mounted on a wall at eye level.” The question she poses is why should they be so elevated? 
For me, these throwaways become unbelievably beautiful when smoothed down, washed off and set into rows with others. I smiled at the wall hanging covered with warning labels, especially the ones on mattresses, “Under penalty of law this tag is not to be removed except by the consumer.” One just like it stares at me every time I change my sheets. There are also the objects under glass like precious gems, which reminded me of how much beauty there is in the world if we just look for it. 
In “Untitled” (Fish Skull) the artist paired a fish skull with a torn plastic Chinese take-out container, and in “Ocean Green” a broken sand dollar and a chunk of green glass float side-by-side in a beautiful frame. She even rescued fragments of notes and lists from an old tin can, straightened them and attached them to the lining of a man’s jacket and wrote, “Stitching notes to fabric, I renewed it -- from decomposing papers to formal attire.” The artist is not the first to use detritus as a means of art, but she does it with a fresh approach.  Each piece reflects her artistic eye and the message behind it. One message is how much we throw away, another is growth and decay and another is about recycling.  In her artist statement she reminds us about the sturdiest manmade structures which give way to the forces of nature and how we are part of a network of living and dying things.
Down the street at the Frank a large group of artists have been assembled in what is the co-op’s first drawing and print show. About half are from North Carolina and half from places farther afield. Some are co-op members and have been juried into this show, and others were invited. Jean LeCluyse, the curator, wrote about drawings as the most authentic moments in an artists’ creative expression and that in many ways printmaking is an extension of drawing. The show includes examples of lithography, intaglio, etching, wood and linoleum cuts and screen printing and for those puzzled about the various printmaking techniques, this is the perfect place to read up on them and see examples on the walls. 
LeCluyse also wrote she wanted the drawings to illustrate the variety and vitality possible using simple tools, like pencil, colored pencils, charcoal or pen and ink and they do. For me, drawing is the one technique between the artist and the viewer where nothing is hidden. It is all there in the line, whether straight or wavy, strong and determined or gentle and tentative. Lines are psychological: a vertical line is active, a horizontal one is passive. A line can be thin and delicate or alternate between thick and thin. Two examples of drawings, LeCluyse’s “Just A Little Help,” with the hand at the right edge of the image holding a pencil and Jenny Eggleston’s “Mute Music,” with its sinuous lines of spiraling swan show the differences in drawing and should help shed light on the artist’s thought processes.
At the Ackland Museum Store the gallery area was ready for the evening opening and the conversations about how each has influenced the other is easy to see and makes for a very special show. Gillian Parke’s ceramics have the added sparkle of decals and metallic lusters; Deborah Harris works mainly in porcelain, often using a celadon glaze; and Evelyn Ward salt fires using a technique of sgraffito to add surface design and texture.  They have shared ideas and borrowed from each other, especially on the use of decals, sgraffito and, most importantly, the ergonomics of potting. Working in clay is hard; the large pots are heavy and must be moved in and out of the kiln and throwing a pot requires repetitive motions which make the potter the perfect candidate for carpal tunnel syndrome. Harris teaches her friends as well as other potters how to avoid the physical trauma connected to pottery.
Ward’s wood fired salt glazes are right at home in North Carolina. Her additions of design by scratching (using sgraffito) make her pots unique. Parke’s pottery glistens with its metallic lusters. She adds feldspar to her porcelain and then, as she writes, includes open-stock decals and metallic lusters, ingredients that, “have often been overlooked by modern studio potters as feminine hobby materials.” Her large centerpiece container, which incorporates several decals of Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy,” sprinkled with a bit of gold, is a dramatic touch. Harris’ pottery is influenced by her many trips to the Orient.  She fell in love with the delicate celadon which dominates most of her work. These potters have been exhibiting together for three years; it is obvious they enrich and enliven each other’s work. My Chapel Hill visit was successful; it was a good art day.

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