Arts & Culture

Romantic urban images and shrines with found materials

Blue Greenberg
Blue Greenberg

Eric Raddatz uses an iPhone to create images that would give Ansel Adams a run for his money, and, as for the rest of us who take picture after picture with our phones, we can weep at the difference. In a group of 16 black and white photographs, all shot from his iPhone and then manipulated with software, Raddatz shows two of his many themes: urban scenes in Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem and evening strolls along the banks of local rivers, in these it is probably the Neuse.

Whether it is the city streets or river banks, the photographer has caught the scene with misty whites and sharp blacks, and lit them with an unseen moon and puffs of clouds.

The artist’s urban images are romantic ones; they become part of a mystical scene. There are no people to mar the magic, no blockades to the endless passages, and the misty views are all about romance. It is another world, eons away from the horrific headlines and personal problems of the moment; it is a dream of delight. As I moved from one scene to another, all familiar to me, reality gave way to fantasy. It was only later I realized I was imagining that scene in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” when the magical car picked up the main character and dropped him at a café where he would meet Picasso, Hemingway, Dali, Gertrude Stein and Cole Porter.

In Raddatz’ scenes along the river, he walks through the woods where his eerie light makes the leafy limbs look like lace shawls. His world is awash in a dream-like glow which turns the watery reflections into hazy patterns. Cotton candy clouds float above the scene, but the woods are dark and frightening; “I prefer the city where the streets hold the real enchantment, for me.” Raddatz’ images led me to imagine myself in his spaces; I was captivated. He uses his photographic skills and technology to show us the natural world and the man-made one. All I saw, however, was the magic, which like some movies, bewitches us into believing the unbelievable.

The artist is a Raleigh native and a Hospice chaplain with a background in theater. Roylee Duvall, the gallery director, said their conversations revealed a man deeply introspective, with a calmness that must be a comfort to his patients.

Across town at the Scrap Exchange, Charron Andrews is working her buttons and bows into fantastical art. From a distance her objects look like religious icons, heavily jeweled and meticulously painted, but they are creations of an unbelievable imagination that sees jewels in soft drink can opener tabs, finely wrought decorations in lost keys and a symbol of great significance in a Toyota emblem.

Some of her images honor the Virgin Mary while others place the universal modern woman in the position of honor. In her gallery statement Andrews writes she was an “alley picker” as a child, wandering around the alleys of her neighborhood, answering some urge to save these castaways for a new life. Her stash of discarded stuff remained just that until about 15 years ago when a friend and teacher suggested using her found treasures by putting them into shrine-like formats. She said the first ones were made from tangerine boxes and added that these things did not have any sentimental attachment, so she had no rules or responsibilities as she was making them into something new.

“She Was the Queen” is an example of one of her shrines with its tribute to Mary. The arched frame is laden with parts of flat candy tins, which are decorated inside with found pictures, bits of lace and small buttons. Then there are film negatives, ropes of silver beads, chains, woven belts and bottle caps, cut into flowery leafs, all perfect embellishments to honor the Saint. Diana Shark, the Scrap Exchange Marketing and Special Events Coordinator, was showing me around and said Andrews is called “Scrap royalty” by the Exchange staff and that she will tell you she is “a hoarder whose husband is a neatnik.”

“Rolling in Detroit,” plays off a different theme; it is an icon to the automobile. The format is horizontal, while the image of a car covered with every spangle and glittery object imaginable angles down and old vinyl records peep out at the edge of the support. Close inspection reveals the records are classics: the Beatles, Eddie Kendricks and Aretha Franklin.

The gallery is set up with a small structure in the center; it could be a small altar, a shrine to an unnamed god or a playhouse for a child. There are shutters attached horizontally, two doors, a welcoming step and every cast off thing one could possibly find. As I continued to look, I saw a little sign on the step and moved closer to see what was written there. Titled “eFort Of A Girl” the artist writes she has dreamed of building a fort since she was a kid. She continues, she knows only a little about a hammer, drill, and a hand saw, but figured she could take some of her work and recycle it into that fort she has always wanted. The fort works as the hub of the entire exhibition.

Andrews grew up in Detroit in a big Catholic family. She said she never felt really religious, but her church was part of her life. She is a self-taught artist and a physical therapist. The Scrap Exchange is loaded with tons of bottle caps, more beads than are thrown to the New Orleans crowd on Fat Tuesday and enough keys to open every lock in the city of Durham. Recycled stuff to make into art is one way to help the earth, another is not to want so many things and another is to use packaging which will disintegrate properly or can be used again.

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Exhibit Information

“I Sight: Eric Raddatz,” Through this Lens Gallery, 303 E. Chapel Hill St., through July 13.

“What You Make of It: Charron Andrews,” Cameron Gallery, Scrap Exchange, 2050 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, through June 10.