Last week I received an email from a cat litter manufacturer, praising me for being a part of its "cat litter community." Yes, the kinship I feel with other buyers of my preferred brand buoys my spirit each time my cats soil the litter box.
But while marketers slowly suck the word dry, "community" still means something to artists. Several gallery exhibitions on the January Third Friday art walk displayed the deep and growing interconnection of Durham's artistic community through collaboration and creative curation.
Pleiades Gallery (109 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-797-2706, www.pleiadesartdurham.com) is run by a small collective of artists who show their work, staff the desk, mop the floor and pay the rent. They also put together community shows like PLEIADES PLUS ONE (through Feb. 14), for which the seven member artists each invited one local guest artist to participate, who in turn invited yet another artist. Pursuing degrees of relation, this curatorial daisy-chain makes for a warm, eclectic show that lays bare what the connected artists have in common. Painter and member artist Kim Wheaton shares a perceptible empathy for her subjects with the artist she invited, painter William Paul Thomas, as well as his guest, painter and collagist Antoine Williams.
The highlight is a quartet of portraits in the front room. Thomas' painting "Almost," a black face with closed eyes emerging from darkness, starkly contrasts with Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh's painting "Ian," in which a white man in a white shirt, eyes open and bright, stands in a sunlit landscape. The meditative focus of Thomas' figure seems to sustain the isolated Ian, as if the men were thinking about each other.
The adjacent wall presents a restless pair. In Darius Quarles' intensely articulated painting "Frida II," Kahlo appears infected with ornamentation, if not resigned to it. Williams' "That's the Sound of the Beast," part of his Gods of Dysfunction series, picks up the calligraphic quality of Quarles' lineation in a text made of torn, transferred newsprint. Through the interference of collage layers, a bent hybrid figure is discernible, a human's lower body in boxer's trunks supporting an awkwardly hunched bull head.
Pleiades Plus One spills into a new, tiny loft gallery upstairs, which will be an alternative space for smaller works and mini-shows in the future.
Around the corner, at the Durham Arts Council building (120 Morris St., Durham, 919-560-2787, www.durhamarts.org ), the Durham Art Guild's VIBRANT NATURES (through Feb. 7) includes painters Karin Neuvirth, Jenn Hales and Emily Eve Weinstein. The vibrant palette they share makes the walls a bright blur at a glance. But Hales' illustrative whimsy and Neuvirth's inventive coloration stand out once you get close to individual works.
The must-see piece is Weinstein's original study for her Eno River mural, which brightened downtown Durham for 18 years before its unceremonious destruction by tech company Caktus Group during its renovation of the historic Penny Furniture building last year. The mural boasted around 800 native flora and fauna, a handful of which appear in the study, labeled in pencil: striped skunk, gar, marbled salamander. It's as delightful to again see Weinstein's familiar meander along the river as it is discouraging to remember how fragile community treasures can be, pitted against commercial interests.
The CARRACK MODERN ART COMMUNITY SHOW (111 W. Parrish St., Durham, 704-213-6666, www.thecarrack.org) keeps growing—its winter installment featured 102 works. Artists could simply bring a piece to the gallery on the appointed day, and up it went on the wall. It sounds scattershot, but the quality of the work rises each season—pieces by Wendy Colin Sorin, Allison Tierney, Nadjib Assani, Maja Kricker, Elliot Lang, Brianna Gribben and Zoe Sasson particularly caught my eye—and although there are never more than 2 inches between frames, the show's design improves as well, as stylistic and thematic groupings become more apparent.
My Third Friday ended on a community high note at the LIBERTY ARTS FOUNDRY (538 Foster St., Durham, www.liberty-arts.org) in Central Park. I missed the aluminum pour earlier in the evening but arrived for the aftermath. Behind the George Watts Hill Pavilion's ornate walls, metalworkers chiseled charred sand molds off of shiny sculpture pieces that were still too hot to handle without gloves. These artists were giddy to be working in the Foundry again, since East West Partners, developers of the Liberty Warehouse condo project, barred them from the facility for most of last year. East West cited safety concerns while taking steps to prevent the artists from returning, such as removing the Foundry's connection to a natural gas line, as Liberty Arts' Mike Waller told me.
It was great to hear from Liberty Arts artists that city officials and East West representatives, who attended the pour, are moving toward an agreement that would allow the Foundry to remain. Hopefully everyone involved will recognize the community and commercial value of hearing artists and neighbors laughing as they chip away black sand to reveal beautiful silver.
SPECTRE Arts (1004 Morning Glory Ave., Durham, 919-213-1441, www.spectrearts.org) is showing nine of Gideon Mendel's large photographic portraits of flood survivors on multiple continents, SELECTIONS FROM DROWNING WORLD (through March 6). A Nigerian woman stands thigh-deep in water in her ruined home; a Thai mother holds her daughter above waist-high water on a Bangkok street. Mendel's deadpan, straight-on compositions get out of the way of the inherent drama of his subjects.
Photographer Eric Pickersgill's pop-up installation ENDEC considered how his family's history was shaped by photographic conventions, as seen in his grandfather's 8mm films, in Golden Belt's "Off the Radar" series. Digitized stills of family vacations and babies coming home from the hospital formed a lengthy scroll around three walls of the space. Pickersgill's grandfather, Kenneth Berghuis, held court, pointing out the parachutes in a couple frames taken during his paratrooper days.
With January come new spring exhibits in the big museums. Look forward to a crowd of local artists at the Nasher Museum of Art (2001 Campus Dr., Durham, 919-684-5135, www.nasher.duke.edu) on Jan. 24 (AREA 919: ARTISTS IN THE TRIANGLE), master drawings from 18th-century French artists at the Ackland Art Museum (101 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill, 919-966-5736, www.ackland.org) on Jan. 23 (GENIUS AND GRACE: FRANÇOIS BOUCHER AND THE GENERATION OF 1700), and Sarah Anne Johnson's augmented photography at CAM Raleigh (409 W. Martin St., Raleigh, 919-261-5920, www.camraleigh.org) on Feb. 6 (WONDERLAND).
This article appeared in print with the headline "Forged in Durham."