Last Saturday, 657 artists from across NC lined up at the Cameron Art Museum’s front door to submit their work for CAM’s latest exhibit, “State of the Art, Art of the State.” It’s the only time the museum opens its doors to artists of all media—paintings, sculptures, glasswork, photography—for a chance to meet with curators to discuss their works before displaying it in CAM for the next nine months.
Paintings, from the purely figurative to the abstract, make up a good deal of the show. But Julia Kennedy firmly occupies the abstract-expressionist spectrum. Focusing on studies in color, her work echoes Rothko, with a palette and delivery all her own. Kennedy has been painting for 23 years, and keeps her approach fresh by refusing to be mired in repetition.
“My work goes back and forth between different colors, different sizes,” she says. “I try not to do all the same stuff or stay in one place, I want to keep moving on. I love working with textures. I paint and sculpt, and prefer to work in mixed-media.”
Local painter Loraine Scalamoni—who is “tying loose ends” to attain her master’s degree at UNCW—has “The Boy in the Sea” on display. It integrates elements of collage with figurative brushwork. Cherubic in soft pastel tones, it’s interrupted by various shreds of paper.
“There are parts of newspaper torn up and put in there,” she describes, “but also there’s a piece of my own I tore up and added to it. It is a bit of a departure, in that I used to work this way, but now I’m doing a lot of figurative stuff, a lot of oil on canvas.”
The equally poetic form in the work of Jas Villalobos Del Castillo, an eco-artist whose paintings seek to evoke the wonder of nature, can be seen in “Stardust/Polvo de Estrellas.” It’s an expressionistic vision of a saintly woman, with particular attention to vivid merging textures representing a mystical night sky. The secret to her technique is using coffee as a medium, a practice she has perfected ever since she was 12 years old. Her attention-deficit-disorder caused her to endlessly doodle with any materials she had at hand, and her Costa Rican upbringing ensured coffee was omnipresent.
“We drink coffee in Costa Rica since we’re born,” she explains. “From there I started painting with the coffee itself. It was too light at first, so I started messing with the formula to be able to make it a little bit darker and give it more of a texture. It’s been many years, and I’ve finally nailed it I think. That’s what I use in the very dark spots to be able to bring that ‘home feel’ to it. A painting is not complete, even if it has all the colors in the world, until it has coffee.”
Ian Griffin presents a framed expanse of orange paint with numerous rectangles removed. The aftereffect leaves empty space behind the painting. Various wires are strung across the emptiness, and a canvas hangs down from the bottom of the frame, as though peeled from the painting’s surface. Inspired by walls in New York City subways plastered with advertisements covering older decrepit advertisements, Griffin contemplates what lies beyond painted surfaces.
“I like to explore dimensionality, what happens when you remove parts of traditional two-dimensional work,” he elaborates. “Does it bring the rest of the world into the painting, since you can see right through the picture you’re looking at into whatever’s behind it? It’s intended to be a blank wall, an ad, or something long forgotten that has peeled away and revealed something mysterious underneath.”
On hand with an enormous photographic print is Owens Daniels, a freelance photographer who blends graphic elements into his photos. His print features a seated figure surrounded by hand-drums, who gazes resolutely from within a dark expanse. Spiritual flames surge from his clothing and cast his form in burning red against a black background.
“This is an African drummer, Hashim Saleh, from a group called ‘The Last Poet’ that I photographed,” Daniels explains. “They did Black Nationalism in poetry, and with my background in that particular genre and knowing the artist, I tried to fuse the two things together to make one portrait.”
Daniels’ work extends into numerous fields, from wedding portraits to photojournalism. Really, he wants to encourage dialogue.
“I hope to expose my work to a broader audience,” he elaborates, “and to let people have a conversation between the subject matter itself and themselves, to decide what is going on within an image and if that reflects their trauma within themselves within America.”
Greensboro photographer Terri McNaughton, fresh from an artist residency program in New Mexico, has her lens turned to the desert. She presents multiple black and white circular photographs compiled in a large frame. The delicate grey tones suggest familiar branching shapes of sea fronds, but they couldn’t be farther from familiar. “They’re fossils I found in the desert,” she describes.
Sculptor Ashley Farley transfigures the natural world, too. Her small wooden shadowbox contains seaweed, coral, branches, and myriad natural objects. A string of cheap orange lights emerges, slightly obscured by the clutter. What really sneaks up on viewers is the presence of a cicada staring out at them from a corner.
“That’s Bob,” points out Farley, “and this is Bob’s office. Everybody needs lighting, but white lights are a little too bland. He wants a little bit of atmosphere. He does all his work here, so he should enjoy his office.”
Farley’s work centers around using found objects to create atypical sculptural pieces, an art form she honed while attaining her bachelor’s degree in sculpture. While she tends to focus on natural objects, the transformation of the shadowbox (originally a discarded basket) into an insect’s office was influenced by her younger sister, who only offered Farley the use of a well-preserved cicada under a starkly stipulating contract. “She said the only way I can have him is if I name him Bob.”
Farley is not the only dedicated sculptor submitting three-dimensional work. Ceramicist Andrea Wilson clutches an intricately detailed bust of a giraffe. Realistic eyelashes complete the animal’s gentle stare, which lends a lifelike quality to fired clay. Wilson initially started the work in with a different idea in mind.
“I was going for a bird but the body turned into a giraffe,” she elaborates. “Sometimes I sit down and think about what I’m going to do. Then I start working and it turns into something else. I don’t want to push it, so I let it do what it wants to do.”
Wilson incorporates techniques from other art forms to further accentuate her ceramics. With the giraffe, she applied 24-karat gold leaf sparingly to the crest of hair on the neck. Typically used in framing, or in strictly decorative applications, its usage in ceramics transforms the piece.
Though Pat Brennan never attended art school, she has taken a handful of stained glass-making classes and has since mastered the art form on her own time, in her own way. On display is a red fish leaping across an expanse of sky rendered in carefully hewn shards of pale turquoise glass.
“My son wanted a picture of a red-drum fish,” Brennan reminisces of the inspiration. “I just hope somebody [sees my piece and] says, ‘Gee, that’s really nice.’”
Viewers can see these works and more at the community free day, which takes place Oct. 8.