There are more ways than the Fourth Friday Gallery Walk to discover new art on Wilmington’s scene. The annual Landfall Foundation Art Show in Wrightsville Beach will prove as much is true this week. Every year the foundation curates a show of submissions from local artists, with the added bonus of cash awards for the best in show. In addition to a veritable mountain of submissions from local artists, the 2018 event features paintings by Wilmington mainstay Margie Worthington, who doubles as this year’s art judge. Worthington’s lifetime of experience, across many spectrums of the art world, allow her to merit the work of both new and practiced artists for their unique qualities, regardless of clout or credentials.
“So often in teaching people about art, they think, I don’t know enough about art, and they get so intimidated,” she explains. “I tell them to stand in front of the work and give me one word. What does it make you feel? That question always lingers. It’s something the novice who doesn’t know art can take away as a tool, and go to a museum and have a meaningful experience. ‘How does it make me feel? What does it remind me of? What does it make me think about?’”
Although Worthington went to college in hopes of becoming a counselor, she quickly fell in love with ceramics. She switched her major to fine art and soon became a professional potter in Chapel Hill. Hoping to strengthen her credentials, she attended East Carolina University’s graduate program in fine arts, where she was forced to take up a secondary art form to graduate.
Worthington chose painting, sending her on a long and winding creative journey that brought her to Wilmington.
“I really fell in love with painting and mixed media,” she recalls. “After I finished graduate school, I moved to Wilmington but didn’t really have a place to work, since clay requires a lot of equipment. I had gotten so interested in making collage at this point, I began to build things that were wood and metal, with canvas, paint, ink, and wire—all kinds of things! I called them ‘collage constructions.’ I did those for a number of years, then I began to work on paper without all the building.”
Moved by the landscape of Cape Fear, Worthington eventually drifted away from creating hulking sculptures. Instead, she looked toward a wealth of coastal vistas all around her. Many familiar beaches grace her canvases, along with painterly snapshots of historic buildings from Nag’s Head and Wrightsville Beach, all painted with a rich palette of beaming summer sunlight. Worthington’s shift from mixed-media experimentation to more traditional painting styles was inspired by her surroundings, but also to see if she still had her art-school foundation skills.
“This is a 360-degree turn from the way I worked for probably close to 25 years,” she notes with a laugh. “I was thinking, Well I haven’t drawn anything or painted in a realistic way. I wonder if I can still do it! I’m really enjoying the challenge of working in oil, just two-dimensionally without building things and introducing a lot of other materials. I spend a lot of time up the Outer Banks, painting those old historic houses, but in the wintertime I focus on still-life because you can’t go outside, so I set up scenes in my studio.”
Alongside paintings of sandy dunes and maritime architecture are arrangements of fruits and vases, which evoke the Dutch-old masters with an updated expressionistic flair. Worthington’s brushwork oozes confidence, and renders something as mundane as an onion in brazen strokes that allow the paint itself to do its job. Smooth streaks form a rotund golden body and give way at the edges into dry-brushed flaking onion skins, topped by a perfectly placed blob of dried paint, which lends a tactile sensation to its gnarled stalk. From a short distance, Worthington’s plates of fruits and vegetables almost resemble photographs, but a closer view belies the hand of a practiced painter.
With a practiced hand comes a practiced eye. Aside from keeping busy in her studio, Worthington spent her days working in museums and universities, beginning with Cameron Art Museum’s (CAM) foundation—when it was known as the St. James Museum. She was its first curator of education, based upon her strong background in both art theory and history. It led Worthington to take up a one-year temp position in UNCW’s art department, which turned into a career spanning 14 years as a professor in art history and studio art. Though she’s retired from the university, Worthington still teaches occasional painting and mixed-media classes at CAM.
Her most recent endeavor as the judge at the 2018 Landfall Foundation Art Show makes good use of her trained eye. Between a rigorous academic training, museum work and tenure in UNCW’s art department, Worthington has honed her artistic eye.
“It’s always enlightening and engaging for me to look at the work and really give full attention to them, to be present with the work and see if it speaks to me,” she remarks. “That’s what I want from somebody judging my work: their full undivided attention. So that’s what I plan to give. You can’t judge a show and be fair to people if you’re walking around, talking and thinking about something else. You go in there, and you are with the work.”
She doesn’t merely look for pieces that appeal to her aesthetic sensibilities. She spends enough time with each piece to examine what’s going on, as well as what the artists might be trying to convey in their own unique voice.
“I look at it until I get to know it, then I make my decision,” Worthington clarifies. “There are so many reasons people make art, so I don’t have one thing that I’m looking for. I feel like if it touches me on more than one level, then I hope it’s doing something the artist meant for it to do.”
The Landfall Foundation Art Show focuses on supporting local artists; thus, anyone can participate. 2018’s offering runs the gamut from hobbyists to professionals, students to teachers. Of the numerous submissions, three artists will win cash prizes; runners-up will receive gift cards.
The art show is open to the public, with a cash bar after 5 p.m. Thirty percent of all artwork sales support the Landfall Foundation, which in turn provides numerous grants to local nonprofit organizations focusing on wellness, education, and the arts.