The Durham Art Guild’s 63rd annual juried exhibition is not the same old-same old. The art includes painting, sculpture, photography and textiles and runs the gamut from the ordinary to the bizarre; from the profane to the sacred and from a simple line drawing, recalling Matisse, to meticulous complex arrangements for 21st century photographic still lifes.
It is not easy to bring such a diversity of ideas into a gallery and create a distinctive, yet seamless whole, but that is what the guild has done. Katie Seiz, gallery director, said she had a wonderful group of volunteers this year and they helped make the show so beautiful.
Across the wide entry to the gallery, J.P. Trostle’s “The Best Healthcare in the World,” sits center space on the left while Stephen Hayes’ “Jesus Piece” dominates the right.
“Healthcare” is a baby pool where three plastic bombs with detonators of empty pill boxes seemingly float. In his artist statement Trostle writes about his personal battles about the cost and availability of prescription drugs and this sculpture is a metaphor for the barriers Americans face regarding access to medical treatment.
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The “Jesus Piece,” is made of gouged wood painted black with a halo of woven straw. Hayes told me some months ago about learning how to crochet in grade school and woven materials are almost always part of his work. The two objects, one three-dimensional and one that hugs the wall, announce an exhibition with no limits. The gallery sizzles with high energy; superior technical quality and thoughtful themes are everywhere.
Seiz and I talked about what made this show so special and speculated about the juror and whether that was the difference. She said, “Probably.” Alexys Taylor, Collections and Exhibitions Manager at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, in Charlotte, is young with a B.A. in Art History and double minors in French and Arts Leadership & Administration.
A young African American with academic expertise in art history, is someone artists, who take risks, happily offer their work for appraisal. I agree with Seiz that a juror with those qualifications has fueled this top notch show. Taylor chose 73 regional artists out of 238 applicants through digital imagery. She will speak toward the end of the show’s run and will award the prizes at that time. In the meantime, choosing the winners can become a spectator sport and adds another dimension to the gallery experience.
I spent a lot of time in the show because the work demanded my full attention. Some that gave me long pause were Andrew Etheridge’s figures that look like horrendous biological mistakes, Tamara Bagnell’s sculptures of fabric, polyfil and cotton which resemble small machines spilling inner organs over a display stand and Joe Coates’ red metal rectangle poised on a diagonal.
Their back stories may help us as spectators.
In Etheridge’s artist statement he writes about his silicone and acrylic anatomical malformations as a way for observers to process their bodies and indulge in self-examination. His meticulous formations have become a part of another career which is building prostheses for those who suffer from absent, disfigured or malformed parts of the anatomy.
Bagnell wrote about her series of assemblages as “Brain Maps.”
Coates’ metal work started with lessons about welding from his pilot-father and the mechanics at the local airport. As a teenager he wanted to build cars, but after an introduction to mountain climbing, he built a business of outdoor recreation stores. Today he is a full-time sculptor.
His delicate rectangle of red metal would be at home in front of any commercial building except for the miscellaneous items attached to its back. On its other side are pistols and bullets, money and checks, buttons and a Rubik's Cube, pill bottles, a cell phone, a bag marked Domestic Air Mail, dog tags, and pipes which connect to electrical boxes that suggest the sculpture moves, although I did not see that happen. The back of the object tells a story; it is up to the viewer to figure it out.
There are many special photographs in the exhibition. I especially liked Elizabeth Laul Healey’s claustrophobic still lifes mounted on metal and Owens Daniels’ portraits of one or two figures surrounded by brown shopping bags.
Healey’s “The Art of Power & Art” nestles Trump’s “Art of the Deal” among china dishes, bullets, and books about “Power” and the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu.
Daniel’s “Bag Lady” pictures a stunning, self-assured African American standing with hands on hips surrounded by bags filled with things she has probably just bought.
Other special images include Dan Ellison’s photograph of a group of young people arranged in and around culverts left as debris in a yard; David Gellatly’s “Durham Tracks,” a small painting of a man walking the tracks behind a closed Liggett and Myers factory building; Annie Nashold’s “Andresha,” a student of Nashold’s from a mentor/mentee program of the Guild; Mark Jackman’s “Always Open” and “The Public Health?,” two black and white photographs of a closed public health office on the left and the bail bondsman’s office open 24 hours a day on the right; Lee Adlaf’s beautifully handmade chair and table; Kirah Van Sickle’s “Safe Harbor,” two boats floating amidst a turbulent mix of reds, yellows, greens and golds: and Susan Adler George’s “Reclining,” a simple line drawing that caught my attention despite all the color and intricate themes around it.
The Durham Art Guild is one of the oldest visual arts organizations in North Carolina and among the five oldest in the entire country and when such a group, with only one paid employee, can count 63 continuous annual juried exhibitions they must be doing something right.
If you go ...
The 63rd annual juried exhibition is at the Durham Art Guild, 120 Morris St., through Oct. 14. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and 1-6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free.