For the past month, Cape Fear Community College has hosted the 37th annual Tri-State Sculptors Exhibition. Twenty-eight of the organization’s more than 100 members from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and the surrounding region are showcasing 40 works. Figurative, abstract, industrial, and surreal works will show at its closing reception on Oct. 2, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Wilma W. Daniels Gallery, downtown.
“What I’ve found particularly fascinating is the variety of work in this year’s show,” says Andi Steele, an associate art professor at UNCW and organizer and chair for the conference. “The artists used so many different materials, which have been such a great representation of work in the Tri-State.”
Materials include industrial metals, cotton and stone, each representing industries of past and present in the region. It includes mining and quarrying, textiles and the increasingly important field of healthcare.
Richard Conn, an art instructor for CFCC, is one of the artists using industrial metals—the scraps of which are abundant in the Wilmington area—to create small- and large-scale sculptural works. Most recently, Conn has become a devotee of the cupola, a furnace used to melt iron that can be used for larger-scale industrial art projects.
CFCC’s cupola, donated by UNCW with the help of professor Aaron Wilcox, is something Conn did not easily master. In addition to bringing in an expert from the western half of the state, Conn attended a contemporary cast iron art conference in Birmingham. While there he took a course in green-sand casting. He created his piece in the show, titled “Delusion Spoon” (cast iron, scrap steel and carved oak), in that workshop.
“I did some metalwork in the past and was pretty fascinated by it,” says Conn, whose most recent work is arguably a marriage of his love for steel sculpture and device installations. The artist uses everyday objects (like spoons or cups or pencils) to conjure the imagination of viewers.
Now Conn is excited to share his know-how in working with CFCC students to develop their own pieces using the copula. One of the students, Dusty Sicard, is showcasing his own work using the equipment in a show titled “Variety of Form” at the Arts Council of Wilmington’s ACES Gallery on Front Street.
Arguably the most curious work in the show is that of Durham’s Andrew Etheridge. An anaplastologist by trade, Etheridge constructs hyper-realistic custom silicone prosthesis for people who have suffered birth defects, trauma or diseases like cancer. His artwork is a personal manifestation of his fascination with the human body.
In “Primary Specimen” (wax, silicone and acrylic), Etheridge morphs a human’s mouth, nose, eye, ear, and forearm into a bizarre (albeit lifelike) form. It is nearly revolting if not for its painstaking attention to detail and such precise mimicry that it borders on the surreal.
“My work is not meant to be grotesque,” assures Etheridge. “There’s something beautiful about the body, but I know it’s also hard to see something so disfigured. I think my work, in a way, is meant to make people face something they are scared of: their own mortality.”
Etheridge took an early interest in the human body. His mother was a nurse, and after graduating from UNCW, the artist received a master’s degree in fine art from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While attending he explored the body as a source of inspiration for artistic expression. His intent is to encourage self-examination. By showcasing his work in such a sterile environment, he hopes the viewer increasingly will become more aware of his own body.
To juxtapose the startling realism of Etheridge’s work is that of sculptor David Hagan. In “The Music Within” the artist uses North Carolina-sourced granite to create a larger-than-life, anthropomorphic sculpture of the three bones of the middle ear: the hammer, anvil and stirrup. The artist says it is a reminder that the most complicated instruments do not make music. “It comes from within the musician,” he says.
Another artist inspired by locally sourced materials is Wilmingtonian Maria Borghoff. “Pathways of Desire” features hand-dyed cotton with indigo, marigold and walnut extract, as well as hand-felted and dyed raw wool and ceramic. As with all her works, the artist’s hope for the piece, reminiscent of striations of a tree or that of floating coral, is to inspire conversation surrounding conceptual foundation and material exploration.
“I’ve found the conversations to be one of the most important assets of the conference,” says Steele, who is also showing work in the exhibition. “The conference is a great place to be [because] you also get to talk to people about sculpture. Once you leave school, I’ve found you kind of lose the opportunity to speak with people about what you’re doing.”
In addition to the Wilma W. Daniels Gallery exhibition, the 37th annual Tri-State Sculptor’s Conference, Oct. 1-4, features two full days of presentations and demonstrations, as well as a keynote lecture from Judy Pfaff. Pfaff is a renowned American sculptor widely known for her installation art, and recipient of the International Sculpture Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Detroit Institute of Arts, among others.
Following the closing reception on Friday, the Wilma W. Daniels Gallery’s 37th annual Tri-State Sculptors Exhibition will end Saturday. The gallery is free and open to the public.