Exceptional images, and extraordinary craftsmanship

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 09:53 AM

“Before Hours:  Photographs by Gail Goers,” Horace Williams House,
610 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, through Feb. 23. For information,
call 919-942-7818 or visit www.preservationchapelhill.org.

“Bill Neville:  Leaving the Table,” Ackland Museum Store, 100 E. Franklin St.,
Chapel Hill, through March 30. For information, call 919-962-0216
or visit acklandmuseumstore.tumblr.com.

Her images are dark: The spaces look abandoned except for the straight-on shot of a fully stocked bar neatly arranged with a full assortment of beer, whiskey and snacks. It is the only indication visually that these are viable places temporarily empty of people.  
In her artist’s statement Gail Goers writes she is well acquainted with bars after hours but was curious to explore them before hours, clean and empty, and found that although the human element is removed, the humanity is not gone. (By telephone she said she had worked for quite a while in a restaurant which had late hours.)
As I moved around the gallery space at the Horace Williams House, I was pulled into each scene not because I sensed something about to happen but rather the seedy interiors, the scrawlings on the walls, the peeling wallpaper that made me reflect on the sadness of humanity. Is this how most of us spend our moments of recreation? 
There is the well-stocked bar, with beers, whiskey, stools pulled up to the counter and graffiti covering every empty space; the dartboard wall with a scoreboard, guns on the wall and more graffiti. There are the pool tables; the old stuffed chairs; backstages and auditorium spaces; corners and outside entrances. Goers has captured the bar setting without the customers or the employees and we see it for what it is: a worn and sad scene.
Goers’ photographs, described as dye sublimation on aluminum, are dark and shiny. She catches an eerie light in each one and, on close examination, many objects seem to materialize before our eyes. For example, in “Markings” I first saw a bench against a wall sprawled with words written in a thin chalk scrawl. As I continued to look, one round table close to the bench came into view and then another round disk popped up, a second table. She also has a way of showing us stairs: bits of a stairway going down or steps in the gloomy interiors going up. They are not noticeable at first but then as they register on our brain we wonder about them as a metaphor for escape.
The photographer focused her camera on sites cleaned and scrubbed, so dirty glasses, crumpled paper, cigarette butts have been carefully cleared away; the problem is with no trash to distract us, the shabby surroundings come front and center. Anyone who has ever been in a gas station restroom or a place frequented by teenagers will recognize “Mirrors,” a tiny bathroom with three mirrors, one reflecting the other two. The sink is clean but the walls are full of words. Under one mirror three lines in different handwritings state: “I look sexy”; “No, you don’t”; “Yes you do.”
Goers and I talked by phone about the show and about her photographic process. She uses a 4-by-5 view camera and has a negative which she sends to a lab to be scanned; she then diligently cleans the scan of scratches and dust which she said, “is hard and tedious.”  Then she sends the cleaned negative to another lab to be developed and mounted on aluminum. She said the detail seen within the blacks is the result of exposures from 10 to 20 minutes. 
The artist is a relative newcomer to the medium. She picked up a camera for the first time in 2007 when she enrolled in a black-and-white photography class on her way to a degree in art therapy. Somewhere along the line the study of art therapy disappeared and photography became a key focus. At the moment she is keeping a roof overhead and food on the table by doing freelance imaging for books and music videos. She also has a book project ready to go to press. Titled “Muse,” the photographs will be of spaces in Germany and China, which she visited between 2010 and 2012; it will be published by Daniel 13 Press.
(It is rare for me to write about an exhibition that has closed.  Two reasons: the weather kept me away and Goers’ work is exceptional. Check out her website to see other images.)


Bill Neville, wood craftsman extraordinaire, is literally “leaving the table.” After some 39 years in Chapel Hill and the Outer Banks, Neville and his wife, the painter Betty Haskin, are moving forward. They will be leaving Chapel Hill to embark on an open-ended trip, living and traveling in Europe. The show at the Ackland Museum Store is a last hurrah for this artist and includes some of his gorgeous tables, many of his turnings, bowls, globes, vases, and several large baskets made of wood and paper. The wood feels like satin; it is impossible to look at these objects without touching them.
Neville built custom furniture but always kept objects around to show a prospective buyer. In the show there are several examples of his cabinets, his turnings or vases and his tables which are a masterful blend of several woods. His “Tea Set Table” and his “Two Top Table” are examples of the kind of craftsman he is.
In his artist’s statement, Neville writes about the huge baskets in the show. He wrote with “tongue in cheek” about retired people who go to a craft center and learn to make baskets. Since he has been shredding papers over many months, he decided to fill these giant containers with them, proving that all that paper meant he had been compliant. He also wrote he has difficulty changing directions without stopping first, so he will stop and turn his attention to the next creative venture, whatever that might be. 
Good luck, Bill.
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.