A return to art, and a new beginning

Jun. 21, 2013 @ 12:38 AM

“Alice Levinson:  Works in Cloth,” Horace Williams House, 610 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, through Sunday.

“Art For Dancers:  Movement, Rhythm and Form,” Pleiades Gallery, 109 E. Chapel Hill St., beginning today and continuing through July 14.

Fiber artist Alice Levinson is showing at Horace Williams House and the third theme show for the very new Pleiades Gallery will feature dance, celebrating the American Dance Festival.
Levinson’s work is not the traditional fiber art; her pieces, with one exception, are abstract forms that look like grand crests or medallions with mysterious meanings. She cuts all sorts of fabric into arcs, loops and swirls, stitches and embroiders on them and then attaches them one to the other. The result is a fabric sculpture, which moves away from the wall.
Embedded in her designs is a personal calligraphy. In her artist’s statement, she writes, “These new works mark my return to art-making following the loss of our home and my studio to fire in 2008. I've experimented with moving the textile further 'off the wall' toward the structural and sculptural.”
“From the Source” is the tour de force of the exhibit. The textiles come together in the form of a tree; the color purple dominates the construction.  Pink and green fabric also work their way through the form as it moves away from the wall.   This object is the only one that has a semblance of realism.  The others, whether small and framed or larger images which hang free, are abstract designs interwoven with her calligraphic whorls.  Nerys Levy, chair of the Horace Williams Art Committee, said this show marks the artist’s willingness to once more embrace life.
After sharing Levinson’s ideas with me, Levy and I talked about the Horace Williams programs.  The preservation society headquartered in the house has a very strong agenda; the art exhibitions are a side interest, yet its very special octagonal room has proven to be perfect for small art exhibitions and, according to Levy, is a major exhibition space in the Triangle art community.  Levy also said the art committee has just completed its slide reviews of artists submitting proposals for exhibitions next year.  “These are the best submissions we have ever had,” she said.  
In downtown Durham I visited Pleiades Gallery and talked with artist and director Renee Leverty about this new collective which is completing its third month. The gallery has a storefront entrance in a beautifully remodeled space. There are nine artists in the group and, according to Leverty, they will close out membership at 10. As I looked at the work on the walls, I asked about the diversity of the artists. Leverty said among the nine are two African-American men and a Pakistani Muslim woman who grew up in Raleigh.  Sculptors, jewelers, ceramists, painters and photographers are all part of the group. 
When I was there Sandra Elliott was the person in charge; each member spends a certain amount of time in the gallery as part of their obligation to the collective.  Among the painters Elliott’s work is the most abstract.  She and I talked about what brought her to Pleiades. She told me she is a trained interior designer and worked in the business for 20 years.  She said a few years ago she took on two enormous projects which, in her words, “wore her out.” 
A friend was going to Africa and she went along. When she returned she decided to take a year off and paint 365 paintings in that year. She arranged a show at the Carrack with those paintings and it was so successful she made the decision to ease out of her design company and become a full-time painter. She confided she has a new series in mind in which she is going to use old architectural drawings as the support for new paintings.  She is definitely happy she has become a part of Pleiades. 
Several weeks before I visited the gallery, by chance, I bumped into Jim Lee, another one of the artists, and he was excited to tell me he had joined Pleiades. Jim is a talented artist with a variety of media at his fingertips. He moves easily between photography, sculpture, and sound and is quick to tell you his art has been heavily influenced by his love of nature and his intimate knowledge of science and technology.
Leverty left the nursing profession to become a full-time sculptor; she uses a combination of found objects, sheet metal and casting to create her three-dimensional pieces. She also made it clear that co-founder Kim Wheaton was very important to the project. And she wanted to be sure I looked at Wheaton’s large canvas, which focuses on the interior space of an art gallery where silhouetted figures look at the walls filled with colorful rectangles lit by chains of glowing lights. 
The collective is run democratically, with regular business meetings that all the artists attend. Together they decided to organize a new show each month, based on a special theme; the next one, “Art for Dancers” will have its opening reception tonight, June 21.  Leverty also said they plan to have at least two open exhibitions per year. “In fact,” she said, “we have just sent out a communitywide call to area artists to submit work on the theme of ‘Social Justice.’”
Leverty and I talked about the philosophy behind collective art galleries. She said it is a way to help one another by critiquing the work; in that way they lift each other up.  Together, they have more ideas, and a collective offers the feel of ownership and ways to show and market the art, Leverty said.
The “Dance” exhibit was not yet on the walls, but some of those images have been included in this column.  

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.