First Friday. April 5th: Headcount Portrait Show at Endeavor + other highlights.
Hello! This is our debut installment of the First Friday Review, a short post that highlights certain exhibitions of note, or just things we find interesting!
It’s April, and we had a rainy, soggy First Friday here in RVA, but there are definitely things around town worth seeing, and I’m glad I got a glimpse of them.
VCU MFA Thesis Show
April means we are heading into the last stretch of the spring semester and art school thesis shows are popping up. Currently on view at the Anderson Gallery is the VCU MFA show, featuring 38 grad students who are coming to the end of their tenure. Graduate school is thought of as a time to push young artists, as well as a platform for them to experiment with boundaries and new ideas before officially venturing out into the world. This show embodies these notions, with a mix ranging from sculpture, video, and Claymation to painting and photography. The four floors of the Anderson Gallery are packed with a gamut of work from minimalism and conceptualism to expressionism and everything in between. The show will be up until May 11th.
Aggie Zed at Quirk
Quirk Gallery has two interesting shows right now. One is called The Outskirts of Witchmamma-Milkee, featuring the work of Aggie Zed, an artist hailing from Charleston SC but now based in Gordonsville. Aggie divides her time between sculpture and drawing, and the current Quirk show exhibits both side by side. The drawings are simple and expressive. Acrylic washes, pastel and ink deftly represent the small, idiosyncratic sculptures.
The 3-D pieces are ceramic re-creations of animals and people with appendages and torsos made of various bits of metal and plastic. They seem trapped by their own forms, perhaps broken and remade by something like an inept doctor Frankenstein, then left bound and resigned to their paraparetic fate.
“De-skilling” is a term often used these days. It’s what many of the early modernists did when they rebelled against the outmoded straight-jacket of academic art. They blunted their mastery of traditional mediums and took on more eccentric forms and materials to find new ways of challenging themselves. While some artists have since used the term as an excuse to never learn skills in the first place, there are still plenty of artists who de-skill on a meaningful level. I’d characterize Zed as one of these. The “de-skilling” is actually a kind of re-skilling, or alternate skilling. I get the feeling she can really draw, and you can see the kind of resistance she is getting from her materials while making these strange little monsters out of such unlikely stuff. There is a whiff of Alexander Calder in her work – I’m thinking of the early circus figures here – but rather than moving entirely into abstraction and simplification as Calder did later, Zed is enriching her characters with a broader range of sculptural substances.
This show is up till May 12. See it if you can.
Glave Kocen Shows Steven S. Walker
Over at Glave Kocen there is a one person show of the work of painter Steven S. Walker, a former illustrator who went to VCU and now lives in Georgia. These fluent paintings show a love for the medium of oil: there are thin colorful glazes, long juicy marks and thick, staccato imasptoes. Walker moves in and out between abstraction and cityscapes-at-night filled with shiny cars, all in the same paintings. But his main subject is the figures who occupy these pictures: they are mostly black and all stylish, cool and self-possessed. One can’t help but think of 1970’s film posters when walking into the gallery and Walker owns that influence in a way that seems both informed and genuine. It’s clear that while he’s left the world of illustration behind him, those roots are still an unapologetic part of Walker’s repertoire.
This show is up until April 27th and is definitely worth a visit.
Headcount Portrait Show at Endeavor RVA
Endeavor RVA is an artist’s collective and sometime gallery. Shows usually pop up there around First Friday. Their current exhibition is titled Headcount Portrait Show, featuring ten different artists working in our region. This includes DC, Charlottesville, Alexandria and Richmond.
One thing I like about Endeavor is their willingness to take chances. The gallery is run by young, emerging artists who are generally interested in making and showing work that is solidly representational but also experimental, unique, or conceptually engaged on some level. I’ve seen some good shows there before, but I think this is one of the best.
Here’s a sample of what’s on the menu:
Scott Hutchison is an artist who specializes in the human figure. Like Walker at Glave Kocen there is a bit of the flamboyance of American illustration in his work, but Hutchison’s flair feels more closely related to the eighties. His colors are high key, and his figures have multiple limbs, sometimes seen from various angles at once. Fun stuff. Slick, but not too slick.
Miguel Carter-Fisher is exhibiting a series of atmospheric drawings on toned paper. His sitters are restrained, thoughtful and reflective, and so is his handling of chalk and charcoal.
Aaron Pavelis is a highly trained figure painter. He spent several years in Florence studying at one of the most highly acclaimed Atelier schools in Europe. But unlike so many of the Atelier influenced painters Aaron appears to be breaking away from academic formula while maintaining the essential aspects of skill and discipline garnered through his training. He is exhibiting a beautiful outdoor portrait that aims to capture the play of light on a partly overcast day. There are subdued pinks and greens, subtle flesh tones and delicate neutrals. Aaron lays down both atmosphere and corporality in this painting, all expressed with an intriguing degree of descriptive experimentation in the brushwork.
Speaking of brushwork… Agnes Grochulska might just be the star of this show. Her paintings are small but serve up a powerful punch. For years Agnes has been an incisive draftsman of the human form with a penchant for intuitive and expressive execution that borders on the performative. Now that combination of force and fluidity is seeping into her painting.
She is exhibiting two figures painted over spare black backgrounds. Their bodies are delineated by looping white lines of paint, and their faces are modeled with partly translucent strokes, some long, some short, applied without much blending, jagged edges and all. But the bold application of paint optically melds into the facial planes and expressions of her sitters. It’s a great merging of two seemingly disparate things that portrait painters have been tying to combine in various ways for centuries. Grochulska seems to be finding her own approach to this dilemma in a way that does justice to the individuality of her sitters. A lively bit of painting for sure!!
Other artists included in the show are Jacob Daniel Green, Ian C. Hess, Eli McMullen, Nate Szarmach, Nils Westergard and Nick Zimbrow.
This exhibition is only up for four days. It comes down on Sunday, April 7th, so if you are interested in seeing it, get down there soon!!
Miles Hall is a painter and art educator. He has taught Drawing, Painting, Color Theory, and Modern Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University. He has an MFA in Studio Art and an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History Theory and Criticism.