Seems like Wilmington saw a spike in its artistic output through 2018, and in retrospect it’s difficult to explain exactly why. Did UNCW and CFCC have healthier graduating classes than previous years? Did we get an influx of new artists? Or—as I suspect—are there more avenues to see art outside of conventional settings nowadays? Whatever the reason, it’s truly making Wilmington a more interesting place to live and play.
New art can be seen on the Fourth Friday Gallery Walk in downtown as frequently as in off-the-cuff settings like Flytrap Brewery and Coworx. A talented historian may make sense of this in due time, but in the meantime. I’m here to commemorate 2018 for a few of its artistic offerings. Limiting the experience to only 10 examples is quite a challenge—and despite being a listicle format, consider below a mere snapshot of notable moments from a year filled with many, all of equal merit.
1. Athenian House demonstrated the power of art as activism with Art of Resistance, a charity fundraiser aimed at maintaining a safe space for Wilmington’s female, femme-identifying, nonbinary, and multiracial individuals. The auction drew from participants of Athenian House’s own artist-in-residency members, as well as from local and national artists. The result was a showcase of art challenging male power structures, bolstering unity among the marginalized, and further encouraging discourse.
Though since the house itself has closed, the nonprofit keeps going strong and is becoming mobile, offering helping hands in the community. Their next event will be a Femme Speak Out on January 11 at 7:30 p.m. with location to be determined.
2. Declarations of Success was another community-oriented group show, focusing how youth of color can achieve enriching lifegoals despite limited resources. Mike Williams and Lamar Whidbee of the Black on Black Project discussed this with Wilmington teens in workshops held at DREAMS of Wilmington. Whidbee then painted portraits of each participant on cardboard, emblazoned with statements about their hopes and dreams. Greatness is always on the horizon for everyone, no matter who they are or where they came from.
3. Sarah Royal’s “Wilt” eschewed convention by affixing ephemera to art. A beautiful monstrosity of beeswax, fabric, and mirrors, Wilt engulfed the Wilson Center’s black-box theatre for just one night. Intended to be a private, secluded experience during the bustling Fourth Friday Gallery Walk, Royal’s creative expression is not something to be bought and sold. That it was shown at all made it a privileged glimpse of a long, grueling creative process made manifest. Art lovers had a single evening to view the piece before Royal left it to degrade in the wild—befitting of its name.
4. Hailey Black debuted dramatically with “The Liberation of the Individual.” Her sprawling cloth installations and organically abstract paintings dominated UNCW’s Boseman Gallery, offering a glimpse into Black’s memories and emotions. While the silky warmth of her cloth sculpture represented Black’s love of her family, her cryptically-titled paintings evoked former struggles and uncertainties as she made her way through life. For Black, art and family supported her as she underwent a painful transformation into the individual she is today.
5. Nathan Verwey has been keeping very busy since his debut solo exhibit in 2017. His style proves a readily identifiable presence throughout Wilmington, and his prolific work-ethic and intellectual curiosity came to fruition in his Coworx exhibition “The Weight of Walls” in the summer. Multiple intense watercolor studies showcased imagined faces—pensive, fraught, curious. Often materializing and vanishing into heavy white paper, Verwey’s subject matter—some even famous, a la David Bowie and Paul Newman—seem like barely-tangible cognates of his own inner dialogues. It’s a miracle Coworx didn’t collapse under such weight.
6. Jamie J. Tilley’s “Full Time” was a bold introduction to a thoroughly self-wrought artist. Tilley loads his paintbrush with psychoanalytical energy as he channels reverence for the human condition into outwardly simplistic figures that each belie a wealth of hidden detail. His seemingly chaotic, multicolored paintings are held together by intricate personal symbolism. However, his art remains far from unapproachable. If you happen to catch Tilley at one of his shows, he would be thrilled to discuss it with you.
7. Shannon Bourne got a chance to flex her creative muscles in “American Stories,” which showcased her ability to merge ceramicist skills with careful printmaking techniques. Ceramic plates hand-printed with American icons both famous and infamous hung on one wall, while the opposite bore grey tiles etched with shackled hands. In-between stood weary clay houses, imprinted with 19th-century headlines describing Wilmington’s racial violence. Bourne’s dark imagery stood stark as life was during the era, with her cracked ceramic glaze evoking broken lives.
8. Cameron Art Museum opened an amazing interactive exhibit, A Time When Art is Everywhere,” from Japanese-based teamLab. Created by more than 500 artists, programmers, engineers, animators, architects, and mathematicians, the “Sketch Aquarium” is one facet that encourages people to color marine life, like starfish, jellyfish, fish of all sizes, scan them and then watch them come to life in a digital sea of other hand-designed marine life. Participants can even “feed” the fish by touching feed bags, to which all the fish clamor for a bite.
Also included is “Story of the Time When Gods Were Everywhere,” showcasing Kanji symbols (Japanese language) that come to life when touched by a human hand. Folks will see elephants, wolves and mountainous landscapes appear through a visual story. It’s truly an exhibit everyone from 2-year-olds to 92-year-olds will love! A feast for the eyes and creative minds, it’s up through September 2019.
9. Michael Aurbach came to UNCW’s Cultural Arts Gallery armed to the teeth with sardonic wit, razor-sharp commentary, and monumental sculptures detailing the often-Orwellian state of academic life. A huge metallic fortification fitted with cameras towered over a small whistleblower that refused to cower in its presence, while a nearby arrangement of tubes, funnels, and basins formed a complex Rube Goldberg device pumping out vibrators disguised as textbooks. Despite recent retirement, Aurbach continues to rally against censorship in the arts.
10. Acme Art Studios pulled all the stops in assembling Dina Wilde-Ramsing’s “Gathering the Flock,” a retrospective encompassing 40 years of work. Wilde-Ramsing’s intricate ceramics evoke Native American imagery in a style all her own, with robust horses, curious crows, and bold female figures, wrought of earthen clay. Her work filled nearly every part of Acme’s expansive building, with more pieces revealed at each turned corner. Such a retrospective would honor any artist.