Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer’s new collection Southern Fictions, a series of sonnets coming out of black-white relations in the Jim Crow-era Georgia of her youth, is the third book off Richard Krawiec’s Jacar Press. Dave Wofford of Durham’s Horse and Buggy Press and Raleigh-based artist and papermaker Ann Marie Kennedy collaborated on the design of this edition of only 100 books. Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books and Music hosted an event last Sunday afternoon in which Byer read her poems, Wofford and Kennedy talked about their bookmaking process, and a panel of writers led a town-hall meeting on race and the South.
Remember that guy in high school who was always drawing? You always wanted to sit in the row next to him so you could peek over during class to see what he was scrawling there, hiding the paper with an arm so the teacher couldn’t see what he was up to. I have a feeling that Jason Whitman was one of those guys.
Whitman’s 25 or so pencil drawings currently at Rebus Works in Raleigh still show something of that album-cover, adolescent hand, featuring painstakingly shaded animals under various degrees of ironic duress, but through their seriality he’s developed a more critical mischief.
Almost every drawing fits into one series or another. Putting the titles of the drawings in this review is really a bit of a spoiler, as it’s the moment that you lean in close to Whitman’s work to read the title, written in tiny fullcaps, that you really see the piece. Whitman has developed a vocabulary of drawing-title relationships that spark more often than they fizzle.
Some of Whitman’s titles pun off the animals too simply—a disgruntled sea turtle scowls out of “Shell of Your Former Self.” But when he pairs two animals in one drawing, the implied conversation works better. A retriever turns its head to a chimpanzee in “So Now What?” A lynx and rabbit stand awkwardly beside each other in “True Love Will Find You In the End.” Whitman’s earnest hand and clear stylization denies any sense of simple gore. You don’t imagine a stripped-away animal body somewhere. The animals themselves seem unperturbed at the absences of their bodies.
In the “Breathing Exercise” series, animals in profile emit multicolored curled shapes from their mouths. Something between a wordless voice bubble and a watercolor paisley, the shapes seem like an essence is betraying or fleeing these stoic rats, rabbits, and squirrels.
The coolest piece in the show is a standalone drawing that perhaps represents a new direction for Whitman. “Don’t You Take Anything Seriously?” is a mélange of elements and characteristics that trusts the viewer to look closely enough at the image to discern Whitman’s mischief without a title to point it out. There’s a striped animal body with a foxtail, hoofed back feet, and cat-paw front feet. Atop its head is a long swoosh structure that goes up to a crowned and beatifically smiling cloud, glimmering with sparkle lines.
This drawing is goofy and creepy all at the same time. It made me want to buy a football franchise and use it as my logo, just to see burly guys with it on the sides of their helmets. If this is where Whitman is going, then we should follow along.
My friends and I paired our most chic outfits with our highest heels for First Friday earlier this month, eager to fit in with the Raleigh art set. We sipped white wine and nodded along with the artists, trying to understand the explanations behind their artwork while techno music played from hidden speakers in the galleries.
The Mahler, located on Fayetteville Street, was a refuge from the artisan stands hawking their wares just outside. With soft spotlights illuminating each painting that lined the walls of the long gallery, The Mahler carried the elegance of the artists that its walls contained. Friday marked the opening of its new exhibit, “Celebrated Artists: Students of Marvin Saltzman,” where each artist displayed was at one time a student or protégé of the UNC-Chapel Hill legend.
“If you look around, no piece of artwork is the same,” said Rory Parnell, co-owner of The Mahler. “It really shows how Marvin allows each artist to find his voice.”
The pieces shown in the gallery ranged from political cartoons to boldly colored woodcuts. Tom Guiton, a painter who studied under Saltzman in the late 1970s, displayed a frieze with an array of Navaho and western religious symbolism. When asked about his artwork, he enthusiastically pointed out the hidden menorah, the circular and squared head shapes of the Navaho and the Jesus fish.
“Any painting can take your eyes dancing, but it has to be a good dance partner,” he told us.
Of course, Marvin Saltzman himself took that as a cue to enter the conversation, gesturing around the gallery and proclaiming his pride for the wide array of artists. “I’m proud of all these people, they’re all making beautiful work.”
He let the praise sit for a moment before he narrowed his eyes and said, “I’m interested in them, not the critics, not how important they are. They make good work, that’s what matters.”
Afterward, we made our way to the 311 West Martin Street Galleries and Studios. The gallery was showing detour, a collection of work by the graduate students of East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design. Right upon entering the gallery, we were confronted by a sort of Degas’ ballerinas wearing gas masks painting done by Jonathan R. Peedin, entitled “Aluminum Dance.”
Spring is in the air. Heaps of little creatures are prepping for debut, from bitty bunnies to budding bulbs and... lucky little cork gnomes, as the Indy staff has learned.
The news came in an "a-gnome-ymous" letter of Lilliputian proportion, attached to this little guy (or gal?). Locals will start spotting these little cuties beginning March 20, according to the message.
It seems they were inspired in part by last year's garden-gnome spottings across Durham, which were documented on a local blog, as well as here at the Indy website. (In fact, we even placed random gnome in one issue last year!)
Despite the gnome-nappings of last year, the "population is back on the rise," the letter said. And in this case, the letter says, it's actually good luck to take these little corkers home.
The very small gnomes, called "korknisse" are being tracked at the Cork Gnome Home
“I photograph because I don’t understand something, or I’m curious about something, or want to learn about something,” Willie Osterman says.
In the case of cancer, one’s body is what’s not understood, to the specific extent that it becomes an enemy. In CHEMOTOXIC, a show of 27 ambrotypes at Durham’s Through This Lens gallery through March 12, Osterman’s photographs document his wife Michele’s chemotherapy and recovery from cancer, and also draw a new kind of connection between the camera and the body.
Michele was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day of 2010, and had a grapefruit-sized tumor surgically removed from her left ovary the next day. She and Willie suddenly found themselves needing to learn everything about her condition and treatment options. Both the amount of information and its gravity weighed on them.
Osterman noted, “I photograph my life all the time, but when [Michele] got cancer I didn’t want to photograph anything.” Eventually, however, he realized that he needed a psychically therapeutic process to help him support Michele in her fight.
A Fulbright scholar and professor of photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Osterman chose to use the anachronistic wet-plate collodian process, which dates to the 1850s, to produce ambrotypes—positive images on varnished glass. The collodian process, like chemotherapy, is highly manual and toxic.
A glass panel is coated with collodian, a flammable solution that, in its day, reduced the exposure time required by egg white, or albumen, emulsions. The panel is then dipped into silver nitrate to make it sensitive to light. Once photo-sensitized, the glass must be handled in darkness. While still wet, it’s fastened within the camera—Osterman used a vintage wooden box camera—and exposed.
The picture must be processed before the plate dries, allowing about a 10-minute window from the initial collodian coating to the finished image. The final image is not so much black and white as it is black and clear, using the reflected light from within the thickness of the glass panel itself.
If the process sounds difficult, it is. There’s the risk of light leaks during the process of fitting the photo-sensitized glass into the camera. Or destroying the still-wet emulsion as the panel is removed from the camera to develop it. Or even the emulsion simply sliding off the panel within the camera before you can expose it. Arranged chronologically in the gallery, one can see Osterman’s ambrotype skills grow with each image. And one sees Michele grow healthier as one moves around the room, as well.
“The early ones, the exposures are bad. There’s fogging, the emulsions are peeling off the plates—technologically it’s very poor, as was our knowledge of cancer,” Osterman notes.
“And as we went through the process of chemotherapy and both lost our hair—her hair fell out and I cut mine off in solidarity—we learned more and things became more positive. The quality of the images and the emotional tone of the photographs became lighter.”
At Duke's John Hope Franklin Center, a new show focuses on the visual work surrounding their vision, including the in-house artist Jacob Weinstein's vibrant portraits. From the show's wall text, "FreeDarko provides an outsider's perspective. But we prefer to think of it as a complement to the way sports usually does business, a way to get more out of pro basketball than simply 82 games and the playoffs—a recognition that for the obsessive, engaged or speculative fan, what happens on the court is merely the beginning of the game."
The show runs until January 7. Don't miss it.
Installation by Sarah Spencer White
Through Feb. 14
It took sculptor and ceramics artist Sarah Spencer White 18 months to hand-craft more than 100 individual pieces of earthenware for an exhibit at the Golden Belt gallery in downtown Durham.
White's new installation, SPILL, references past and present handcrafted forms, and explores the shift between industrial and handmade, symbolic of the former Golden Belt's recent past as a functioning factory. SPILL asks us to meditate on what we expect from a vessel. Functionality or dysfunctionality? A sieve or a container? In a Q-and-A with the Indy, White took the time to describe her vision, her discoveries and her inspiration.
Independent Weekly: What brought about this particular ceramics installation, SPILL?
Sarah Spencer White: The work for the SPILL exhibition was conceived and made for this particular space. I wanted to make work that would refer to the industrial production history of Golden Belt and also work well in a gallery that is basked in natural light from the large skylights. These two goals led me to conceive of an exhibition that would be mainly white in color and one that would be a large grouping of pieces. The idea to make pieces that all had a series of holes and perforations grew out of some earlier pieces.
Each vessel has holes that make it useless for the purpose of containing liquids. Why?
I wanted the pieces to reference various vessel and container shapes, but to also have holes that would make these containers unable to contain liquids. I like setting up contradictions. The perforations create a window of sorts into the enclosed space, but they also make it impossible to hold liquid. I think that the function/ dysfunction juxtaposition urges the viewers to ask more questions about the work, to look at it a little bit longer, to engage with it on a deeper level.
I'm curious about the connected network of ceramic pieces.
The table piece is called "Hydropathy." I have used the table to house other collections of work in the past and originally fabricated it because I was frustrated by the pedestals that [another] gallery had to offer while [I was] planning a show. For this piece I wanted to create a system or network of pieces that implied a filtering-down. The holes in the piece at one end are the largest and the holes get smaller and smaller as you proceed down the table. I also wanted to use this piece for the Golden Belt show because it points back to the industrial history of the building.
You mention you were hoping to discover the shifting barriers between industrial and handmade in creating SPILL. Do you feel you made that discovery?
I have been thinking about and working with the shifting barriers between the mechanical/ industrial and the organic/ handmade in my work for a long time. I don't know that I can name specific lessons learned from this body of work. I can say that anytime I complete a large body of work or install a show I am aware of how precarious and changing the human relationship with the industrial is. We live in such an interesting time of science, technology and medical advances. It is also a time where a value of the handmade and natural seems to be increasing in response to these advances.
I spoke with Ariel Dorfman about his play, Picasso’s Closet, for about 45 minutes in his office at the John Hope Franklin Institute at Duke, at midday on Oct. 13, 2009. Nasher Museum of Art will present a staged reading of the play in conjunction with its Picasso and the Allure of Language exhibit, Oct. 29-31, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Duke Box Office website.
Independent: This must be a difficult script to produce.
Ariel Dorfman: This is an experimental play. Let’s say I’ve tried to do, modestly, in theater with time what Picasso does with space—which is to create many perspectives and break down the barriers of identity. Therefore it verges between the popular and the experimental.
As different characters place their viewpoints one after another, there are these interstitial planes of reality coming at each other…
Most biopics, say, tend to be rather linear. Or at least they go back and forth—childhood to adulthood to childhood to adulthood—
—the narrative of ping pong—
—and they’re very predictable in that sense.
I said to myself, “How can I possibly write a play about Picasso as if Picasso’s art had never existed?” It had to be influenced by Picasso; the greatest homage to him is really not the character on stage, but the art with which he’s being portrayed. It’s a post-Picasso play, whereas most plays about Picasso I’ve seen—most plays about artists I’ve seen—tend to act as if the artist had not influenced them at all.