Blue Greenberg: In Durham, two means of visual escape

May. 23, 2013 @ 04:06 PM

“Vaudeville: Daniel Herrera,” Through This Lens Gallery, 303 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, through Aug. 10.
“Scapes: Landscapes, cityscapes, dreamscapes and escapes,” Durham Art Guild, Durham Arts Council Building, 120 Morris St., through Saturday.

Looking for escape? Try Dan Herrera’s intergalactic vaudeville show at Through This Lens gallery or the group exhibition titled “Scapes” at the Durham Art Guild.
Sci-fi enthusiasts will love Herrera’s vaudeville folks; they would be right at home in the “Star Wars” universe. In fact they could fit right in with the fringe elements that gather at the Mos Eisley Cantina. There is the “Wax Tickler” with his curling mustache, cigarette smoke wafting over his head and webbed hands coaxing music from two gramophones. There is also “Cthulu’s Daughter,” dancing in an aquarium, like some freak aberration of nature.
As she drifts through her movements with her floating tentacle legs and Medusa-like hair, the slave dancer at Jabba’s palace comes to mind. Herrera’s vaudeville troupe also includes such regulars as the strong man; this one holds up a wash tub full of writhing female creatures, and the animal tamer whose arms taper into curling whips.
Herrera has created his sci-fi world in a Victorian setting. He begins with his version of a 19th century technique called Cyanotype; here it is a combination of digital imaging with gum bichromate printing and many layers of hand applied gum emulsion. The final print on watercolor paper is unique because of the hand work. His velvety surfaces remind us of the rich burgundy textiles so fashionable in Victorian decoration.
The artist builds a miniature set for each of his narratives, adds decorative elements to add to the realism and then uses real models as his actors. “Shrouded Mire” is a perfect example of the narrative coming to life on a made-up set. In a room where the wall coverings, the checkered floor and the chandelier all speak to a Victorian palace, a woman clad in a ruby red ball gown with a tight bodice and a skirt of puffs and ruffles has been grabbed by a monster dressed in top hat and evening clothes. It is the age-old myth, fostered through the centuries, that women’s suppressed desires is to be ravaged. Through the magic of digital photography Herrera works each part into a strange and haunting world.
He and I talked while the gallery staff was setting up the exhibition. I asked him who were his major collectors. He smiled, and said “nuts like me who are addicted to science fiction.”
Around the corner at the Durham Art Guild are 52 works of art by 39 artists in the Guild’s 2nd Juried Theme Exhibition about all the ways the suffix “Scapes” can be used. The exhibit loosely includes landscapes, cityscapes, dreamscapes and escapes. Jennifer Dasal, associate curator of contemporary art at the N.C. Museum of Art, juried the show and chose the cash awards.
The exhibit is good looking with a lot of very sound and very safe work. The Guild galleries are non-commercial so do not depend on sales to stay in business. So, Guild, encourage controversial work, stretched-to-the-limits work, political work. There is a huge cache of talent in the Triangle and I would venture most artists have something to say beyond the traditional. Let’s hear it.
With that said, there are a number of paintings that deserve your special attention. Nora Phillips uses thread and fabric in her “Map of Soul.” Her “Soul” is all pinks, reds, yellows and purples with thread cascading and twining across the surface and quilted patches here and there. In her statement she writes that the thread produces movement on the surface and the quilting pushes her painting from the flat wall into the space of the viewer.
Elizabeth Hume is the one videographer in the show. Her video, titled “Perderon,” won third place. The camera pans and rotates across the view of a futuristic cityscape. She wrote she has been exploring digital media for the last few years. She builds the elements to make her three dimensional city, enhances the scene with a technique called Matte painting and then uses digital manipulation. This example is a good indication Hume understands the medium; she needs to continue investigating all its possibilities.
Peter Aitken, second-place winner, has two digital photographs in the show. In his statement Aitken wrote that his photographs are not reality but his interpretation of reality. In one, we see a deep green sea, a perfect horizon line, a white sky in the upper third and deep clouds coming in just above the horizon. In “Mountain in Cloud” we get a glimpse of a mountain top engulfed in a sea of flat space. Aitken’s landscapes are dreamscapes imagined through the depths of the camera.
Jim Lee’s two photographs are also created through the magic of the camera. In “Foggy Dusk at Beaver Marsh” his cellphone camera recorded the marsh, blurred by steam rising from the water at the end of the day. In his scene of fish underwater he tells us the image is totally fabricated on a modified flatbed scanner. William Breazeale’s “Left Behind, RDU #5” is a beautifully rendered traditional painting; the scene is one we all know well.
Katie Seiz and Laura Ritchie are the new directors of the Durham Art Guild; the organization seems to be in good hands.
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.