David McConnell at Flanders; book art at Daylight | Visual Art | Indy Week
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David McConnell at Flanders; book art at Daylight 

"Frontier Thesis" by David McConnell

Courtesy the artist / Flanders Gallery

"Frontier Thesis" by David McConnell

Flanders Gallery on the move

Development around Raleigh's new train station is compelling Flanders Gallery to relocate. In November, it will part ways with CAM and the Warehouse District, moving into a much smaller space adjacent to Lump Gallery on Blount Street. Director Kelly McChesney calls the move a win-win.

"I think that downsizing will help Flanders have better exhibits, and the synergy between Lump and Flanders will be so beneficial," she says. "It is extremely difficult and costly for artists and the gallery to produce exhibits in large spaces. Intimate spaces allow people to view the art, rather than focus on the space around it."

David McConnell's new Frontier

Flanders' penultimate show in its old West Street space is David McConnell's Frontier Thesis, up through Sept. 27. The show weaves together American historical threads including the end of the "free land" era in the 1880s, rapid industrialization and contemporary concerns such as "nature deficit disorder" and food-sourcing.

Frontier Thesis shows McConnell as more of a sampler than a collagist, integrating diverse imagery into a layered whole while allowing sources to remain individually visible. McConnell and I had a walk-and-talk around the show together.

INDY: The painting "Of an Era" has a unique look among your other work—denser, almost congested. You often use scarring gestures, but this one is really deeply scraped. Does it have a different significance?

DAVID MCCONNELL: "Of an Era" stayed on the studio wall and kept evolving over several years, even though it's not a huge piece. It's scraped and it's dense. I can remember at least six different layers involved in getting to this final place, and part of that was scraping away different layers to get back to a layer that I liked, but still leaving some of the peeled paint on to show the tactile process.

INDY: You make visual links between elements in your paintings, but there are always a few elements left unlinked. Why not make the composition tidy, like a text?

DM: An important part of the process for me is to not put a bow on it. I want to make sure all the information is there for someone who might be interested in searching for it. What I don't appreciate as much is when the sentence is completed in the work so that the viewer can get it right away. I try to avoid the summary so that the viewer can have their own story unfold.

INDY: The title work incorporates the famous farm couple from Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic." But there are fabric panels as well—one of which obscures the farmer's eyes—stitched-together pieces of wood and even a screen-printed image that draws upon the video work in this show. Tell me about the wider vocabulary of materials you're using now.

DM: Something I've started getting into these last several years is the concept of sewing and how it relates to the American frontier with early homesteading. I grew up with a mom who is an amazing quilter. As a child, I took it for granted—everybody's mom must make quilts. Once I got older, I had my own child and got into concepts about materials that come from the earth and are manipulated by the human hand. Then I saw the quilt differently.

INDY: I'm wary of quilting being the only lens through which I see your work. But the stitch is an interesting way to connect things, to take disparate elements and draw them together along a seam. It refers to the hand differently than collage where, as a painter, you can just paint one image next to another. With a stitch, you're physically putting them together.

DM: I've also really gotten into the controversies that surround sampling. I think it's a great art form and when it's used really well in music, it should be celebrated. I wanted to try it in visual art, and I chose the Grant Wood piece, which is itself a great piece of art. But the image also speaks to a lot of the narratives behind this series. Self-sufficiency wasn't a luxury on the frontier, but a necessity. So I wanted to sample it.

INDY: Your square collage pieces feature historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Mark Twain, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison and even Evel Knievel. American resourcefulness is on display, both as a frontier survival necessity and, as generations passed, a way into post-industrial luxury and spectacle.

DM: And through that process of trying to do better and bigger, there's collateral damage. Now we're faced with how to repair the damage caused because so-and-so wanted to make this huge advance in manufacturing and now we have rivers dying. How do we undo all that? By moving forward in the name of progress, we actually move back and create more obstacles that aren't being addressed because it's not in the legislation that they have to be.


For many of us, reading becomes primarily about information acquisition around third grade. Until then, books are spatial experiences more than mere reading material. In LIBRARY OF POSSIBILITY: BOOKS BY TRIANGLE ARTISTS at Hillsborough's Daylight Project Space through Sept. 22, book artists gesture back toward pre-literacy in their insistence upon the book as an object.

Barbara Livingston's "Navigating the Library" is a length of halved bamboo used as a stand for an assortment of book objects fashioned from discards and dreck. Wordless papers are bound between rusted metal chunks and hornet nests. Intensely stitched rolls evoke mummification linens. When slid back, the lid of a secretive wooden box reveals a budding branch.

Mary Blackwell-Chapman's book sculpture "Thunderwood Book" generalizes the book as gathered paper. A blue sheaf dangles like yak hair. The sheaf is bound into a waistline at one end, suspended on a bone straddling the mouth of a split log. "Alan Bennett's Aquarium," a miraculous delight by John Davis, looks like a book when closed but opens into a carousel-like desktop aquarium with schools of pop-up fish bobbing beneath paper ceilings.

Library of Possibility also includes more traditional book objects. One worth spending time with is a cipher-like spirit book by R. France titled "Fragments & Snippets." You flip through ancient-looking color images of mystical iconography, chipped vases, handwritten notes and a stuffed panda. The book gives you the feeling that each page's contents disappear as you turn it over.


Speaking of reading: When Durhamites check out their library books, they should visit Tim Gabriel's Little Worldornate, mechanically animated dioramas in the alcove gallery on the second floor of the Main Branch of the Durham County Library—through Sept. 20. Push a button and a miniature pirate beach, vampire estate, ghost town and Egyptian excavation whirr to life, offering a little slice of San Francisco's magical Musée Méchanique.

And did you know that Cary is in year seven of an annual juried Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition? Cary Visual Art placed 12 sculptures downtown, two of which were chosen via a community poll.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Range life."


  • Chris Vitiello’s Eye of the Beholder arts column


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