The Social Worker
André Leon Gray, 31
Born "in the dirty South"
Day job: Part-time artist,
Graphic Signs Power & Designs, Raleigh
André Leon Gray has independently developed a style that tackles political subject matter from a personal space, imbuing his work with a transformational narrative that embraces both problems and solutions. Affectionately assembling found objects infused with American histories that are re-examined through African styles of ritualistic representation, Gray unites opposing motifs to form what he calls Eye Gumbo, his personalized and politicized version of household artifacts.
Much like the images, his titles are often simultaneously soothing and woeful: "Sunkissedflower" contains a quilted sunflower framing a black woman's antique photo mounted to a bed frame (a collaboration with fellow artist Sherri Wood), while a washboard surrounding a similar portrait overlapped by a circular strand of cowrie shells--once a form of African currency--is titled "Crowned Woman, O so rare." Though these and other works are quietly moving, Gray doesn't shy away from telling it like it was or is. In the angry reds of "Reel Life Innertainment," he places a white-lipped Steppin Fetchit character in the center of a dart board displayed below a film reel. Surrounded by plastic marquee letters dating Hollywood's sambo-izing of black performers from 1915 to 1999, this seemingly comical composition is ultimately unfunny.
Gray's Eye Gumbo has captured the attention of numerous regional galleries and critics. His current solo exhibition at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. will continue through Oct. 5; look for his work this fall at Litmus Studios in downtown Raleigh.
The Animal Other
Sally Van Gorder, 34
Born in Jacksonville, N.C.
Meredith College, BA
Day job: Graphics Animator, Serious Robots Animation, Durham
Alone on set with a digital video camera and a large monitor that helps her to determine poses, Sally Van Gorder becomes other people--people with the heads of sheep, rabbits, or cows. Van Gorder's troubled character studies--mostly solo performances on minimalist backgrounds with heavy influences from classic surrealist photography and collage--tell mini-stories of dual nature that amuse and disturb.
In a set of stills titled Good Morning Mary Sunshine, the artist is awakening alternately as a sheep and rabbit, lying back down, praying, listening for sounds and kicking her feet thoughtfully in the air. In true surrealist fashion, concrete meanings behind these performances are obscured by and from their creator, who is working within the indecipherable world of dream states.
Another series of stills, The Nightgown, follows a ghostly woman across rich brown earth into pitch-black backgrounds, her nightgown frozen as it billows in the wind. The ethereal quality of these stills is potent enough that you nearly drift off to sleep moving through them, yet just beneath the dreamy surfaces there's an undercurrent of fierceness in Van Gorder's images: She blends uneasy half-memories and hypnotic tones in an exploration of human/animal identity and duality. Her eerie digital imagery has been featured in several lauded regional exhibitions. You can catch it at December's studio opening of BLAM, in Raleigh.
Michael Morlan, 35
Born in Alexandria, Va.
Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss.,
Day job: Chemist, Diosynth RTP
In one drawing, an ant is tensely poised just behind an aphid, both rendered in minimalist Asian-influenced jagged lines and understated color choices. A similar choreography of captor and prey is drawn in "The Ghost of a Dragonfly Does Not Catch a Living Bee," creating a delicately balanced composition with both courtship and attack implications. The notoriously difficult-to-master pastels employed in further drawings of fish, herons, grubworms and flowers, are a surprising choice for intricate linear patterns.
You've just discovered Michael Morlan's view of the natural world, and not a moment too soon. Morlan's years of roaming the mountainside with a sketchbook in Mississippi and Virginia, where he acquired his science education, combined with time spent in near isolation studying combinations of art history and eastern philosophy, have all paid off handsomely. His scientific approach to art and his artistic take on science and philosophy have successfully metamorphosed into an acute awareness of form, line and movement, each informed by a spiritual understanding of his subject matter.
In a drawing titled "Semi," the Japanese name for cicadas, an exquisitely simple insect pushes the spinning circles of its body out of a soon-to-be-discarded shell, precisely in the moment prior to release. Ironically, Morlan is in this same state, currently planning a move to Mexico next year to pursue full-time drawing, painting and observational field studies. Keep an eye out for an exhibition of his work at Raleigh's Vertigo Diner in October.
The Invisible Woman
Tammy Rae Carland, 36
Born in Portland, Maine
University of California at Irvine, MFA
Evergreen State College,
Olympia, Wash., BA
Day job: Assistant Professor of Art, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Tammy Rae Carland has produced one of the few portrait series of gay youth to date, documenting their newfound self-acceptance in life-sized black and white photographic prints that seemingly allow them to step right out of their invisible settings and into the space occupied by viewers. This isn't the only type of disappearance Carland adjusts--in another series of photographs and writings she addresses the lovers, muses and teachers of the artists who were ultimately deemed more important historically, injecting venom into the term "significant other." Her photography is alarmingly direct and sometimes intentionally confrontational. The subjects are depicted in subtle send-ups of fashion advertisement, cinematic voyeurism and art history posturing, or matter-of-factly captured in faux-candid moments of leisure and personal space.
In her Keeping House series, self-portraits of a domestic partnership reveal the monotony of daily living, and in doing so wrench free any expectations of sensationalism in the portrayal of a home occupied by female lovers. Adolescent girls, locked forever in the victim dialogue of horror films, are inhabited by Carland herself in "Regan" and "Carrie," brutal life-sized self-portraits that suggest far more about the characters and their martyrdom than the films they emulate. A series in progress, Lesbian Beds, shows abstracted aerial views of empty sheets in painterly colors and textures, occupied by invisible deaths, dreams or sex acts. In her sharply executed self-portraits as Dorothea Lange, Lotte Jacobi and other photographers mythologized by femininity and their own self-portraiture, she reintroduces the images, questioning the nature of self-documentation, historical identity, and performance/activism.
Carland's dizzying list of exhibitions, reviews, lectures and residencies prove her a highly visible force in the national arts community. You can find recent samples of her work at LUMP Gallery in Raleigh this fall.
Ellen Burgin, 32
Born in Marion, N.C.
Louisiana State University, MFA
University of North Carolina, BFA
Day job: Project Manager, Burney Design, Raleigh
Burgin's aggressively applied acrylic paints forge abstract expressionist landscapes onto huge sheets of canvas that she staples directly to the wall, places a stepladder next to, and attacks. While her visceral approach produces powerful results, the overall aesthetic she explores is one of less tangible states; she is capable of capturing the complexities of emotion without depicting formal objects or settings.
Titles such as "This is About How Much of Enough I've Had of You" and "Pearl Necklace" provide vague guidance to the stories in her extraordinary brushstrokes, and demonstrate a self-awareness about her ability to evoke personal response from mere colors fields and shrewd marks. Those who've felt her work to be worthy of notice include numerous national galleries, grants programs and private collectors. She recently left behind a five-year staff position at The North Carolina Museum of Art to allow for more studio time.
"In front of the canvas I can get angry and ugly--and do it with abandon," Burgin says. You can find the beautiful results at Raleigh Contemporary Gallery this fall and at artpeacock.com.
Lump Lipshitz, 35
Born in Milwaukee, Wisc.
University of North Carolina, MFA
University of Wisconsin, BFA
Day job: Adjunct Professor of Fine Art, Mt. Olive Liberal Arts College
Printed on a Plexiglas "flyer," "Athlete Coach Get Together Tonight" isn't a phrase that typically titillates, but in Lipshitz' hands all sporty things tend to run, ahem, straight to the sidelines. His meticulous craftsmanship and pop sensibilities readdress plastic tarps, shower towels, tube socks and double-strawed water bottles, retelling familiar locker room stories and alluding to more subversive tendencies in them. In his thesis exhibition at the Ackland Art Museum last year, Lipshitz displayed a ready-made Sports Illustrated magazine cover featuring a photograph of a uniformed football player on his back, legs suggestively stretched in the air with the headline, "BOTTOMS UP."
As his installation titled Deep Cover implies, eroticism in the end zone is still a taboo. In a clever twist on latency and repression, Lipshitz rarely depicts anything overtly sexual--he simply and expertly suggests, through textures, colors and occasional well-placed words that ask but don't tell. His tragicomic caricatured men's head paintings, a numbered Bald series, show off a studied stylistic approach to portraiture, mirroring the underlying humor of his installation works.
Recent exhibitions in Chicago, New York and Seattle are getting Lipshitz off the bench and onto the playing field. His recent output will be on display this December in the group exhibition Bad Touch at LUMP Gallery in Raleigh (in case you hadn't caught that ball).
In addition to their gallery exhibitions and studio openings, this October each of these leading-edge artists, and many others, will be displaying their donated works at the Works Of Heart Art Auction in Raleigh, an annual fundraiser for people living with AIDS. The public event has become a well-attended venue for the area's biggest talents, and a place for patrons to invest their money where it counts--in more ways than one.