Local artists Elizabeth Singletary and Robert Salemme work differently. Singletary is a self-described collage artist who views her style of art as “painting with paper.” Salemme works in a variety of media, including steel, wood, paint and most recently textiles. Despite their different approaches, both artists’ aesthetic can be found in piecing together discarded objects into works of art, now on display at WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery through July 10.
Singletary started creating collages three years ago. A calligrapher with a love for paper, she was turned onto collage-making by well-known Wilmington watercolorist Deborah Cavenaugh.
“I went to Deborah to learn how to paint but realized instead how much I love the process of collage-making—ripping the paper, searching for colors, the whole thing,” Singletary says.
Singletary’s process includes collecting magazines (Vogue and Glamour are two of her favorites), and identifying colors and patterns to incorporate into her art.
“I really enjoy the process of searching for the right colors,” Singletary tells. “For instance, in preparing for the show at WHQR, it was the first time I’d done white seabirds. At first I was worried how I was going to create the birds’ wings with the feathers being all white, but as I was flipping through a few magazines, the ideas would just come to me.”
When hunting for inspiration for her work, Singletary doesn’t have to look too far. Her art often depict elements of life on the coast: pelicans, nests of eggs and local flora, including the infamous azalea. She was named the featured artist for the North Carolina Azalea Festival in 2013; in fact, her art work, which decorated the official poster, was the first that Azalea Fest sold out of during its 60-plus year reign.
“I have a love for animals, and there are so many here on the coast,” Singletary continues. “Sometimes, I will see a particular kind of animal over and over, and I will research what the presence of that animal symbolizes spiritually. The messages are always encouraging —to slow down and find joy in the everyday.”
The animals also inspire Singletary to give back. She has donated numerous works to organizations, such as the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. In addition, during the Pieced Together exhibit, a portion of proceeds from Singletary’s and Salemme’s sales will benefit WHQR.
While the exhibition is Singletary’s second show at WHQR, it will be a first for Salemme. Salemme will be debuting his textile pieces.
A retired engineer and an artist for more than 50 years, Salemme’s first love was welded sculpture. He drew on experiences from a childhood apprenticeship in his father’s blacksmith shop. In Salemme’s most recent work, he now pays tribute to his grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. and worked as stitchers in the garment industry in Boston.
“The transition to textiles has been easy,” he says. “It’s an really extremely versatile medium, and as it turns out, sewing is very similar to the process of welding—it’s a different way of assembling things together.”
Like with welding, Salemme’s textile works are influenced by the elements available to him. “I like to have the materials around me as I work,” he tells. “I generally start with sketches, but usually some particular material will strike something in my imagination, and then the actual implementation of the work becomes somewhat automatic.”
Among Salemme’s works are those pieced together with strips of the American flag, such as “Ring of Fire” (pictured). “My interest is primarily in the aesthetics of the American flag,” he says. “Certainly the colors—the red white and blue—are something that strikes a chord with all Americans, but I would say it’s almost coincidental that I did these pieces.”
Though it’s easy to focus on several interesting components at play, Salemme asks that his work be viewed as a whole rather than dissected into their individual pieces. This is true of Singletary’s works as a collage artist as well.
Offers Salemme, “Once a work has been completed, it is the gestalt that is important and the individual components cease to be relevant.”
Art work by Elizabeth Singletary and Rober Salemme
WHQR MC Erny Gallery
254 N. Front Street
On display through July 10, Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Closing reception: June 26, 6-9 p.m.