Middle of last week I got the word that the VCU Communication Arts students’ Senior Expo was coming up on Friday. I’ve occasionally been to shows featuring work by Comm Arts students, but the description of the setup was great, and—By The Bats Of Mike Mignola!—the art was freaking great. The students brought their A game, and frankly the quality of what I saw was on par with what I’ve seen at conventions and fairs. Some of the highlights for me included…
Illustrations of a cluster of figs and a Japanese flying squid, by Lohitha Kethu, the latter of which currently graces the front page of my library’s website as part of an exhibit at our medical library. Scientific illustration’s been on my brain lately, as the digital arts and humanities initiative I’ve led for some years had a panel + workshop this spring that was on the topic. Kethu’s illustrations grabbed me because one was quite familiar, but the other—well, I like figs, and the clarity and detail of her work brought them immediately to life.
Corey Hannah Summers‘ work caught my eye as I was on the way out, off in a nook that I hadn’t seen walking into the expo. She had a few more original paintings on display than some of the students, which I appreciated, as well as a crop of stickers, a few of which I had to have (those teeth!).
Summers’ paintings can be seen on her website, but here’s an antler study that grabbed me from across the room. The warm accents really made it stand out, given how many bones-and-antlers paintings I’ve seen that go entirely warm or cool.
There were many, many other cool things on display, from Elly Call‘s tarot deck, to Norine King‘s stickers of heroic women, to Mike Collier‘s fangs and gaming-related swag, to Will Sullivan‘s atmospheric concept art. Near the start of the show, my eyes were caught by Emma Welch‘s Parasite. Parasitic & symbiotic imagery always gets me, but I’ve been consuming even more art than usual that plays with these themes, from a re-watch of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, to Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel, Borne.
Really, the overall quality of the show was outstanding. I went in not knowing what I’d see, and I was repeatedly struck by the work our students are doing. It should also be said that the “artists alley”-type setup in The Depot really worked well, and the turnout was great, with folks turning out from all over the university and surrounding community.
Sunday we went to Arts in the Park in Byrd Park, a first for us, despite having lived here for years. The arts and crafts on display were high quality, and the weather was great for walking around. With 450+ vendors, there was more than enough to see, even passing over the stuff that wasn’t our thing.
The first booth we stopped at was that of Mary Ann Vessey, a painter from the Shenandoah Valley. She uses her paintings to tell stories and show off the land she loves, often through the lens of changing seasons, and there were a number of holiday-themed paintings on display, prints of two of which we picked up. Halloween is having a moment right now, but it’s also our thing, for all the reason you’d imagine.
We wandered the show and had a great time, admiring Debi Dwyer‘s 3D stained glass creations and Molly Sims‘ vivid, beautiful animals, among other things. Stephen Brehm‘s oil paintings were among my favorite in the show, as he has both a way with light on water, and a deft hand at bringing background light and color into the shadows. There were plenty of paintings to be found at the show, from abstract to whimsical to landscape, but his stayed with me.
Toward the end, we found our way into what was the most exciting and surprising booth in the show, that of Allison Funk, an artist specializing in prints, from woodblock to linocut to monotype. I wasn’t sure when we went to the show what, if anything, I’d be buying, but that immediately switched over from an “if” to “which one” when I saw her prints.
It’s hard not to think of Expressionist woodcuts looking at Funk’s work, but you can see shades of more contemporary styles, as well. Handling of flesh that echoes the honesty of Freud, compositions with the feel of Albright or Munch: these and many more things struck me, but—to be clear—they struck me because of her deft use and strong style. From the way she works with shadows to her use of reflective surfaces, Funk clearly has a style of her own.
I considered but did not buy a print of a version Funk did of an iconic scene from The Walking Dead. I’ve seen various art derived from the show, but none that have been as good. Funk’s take on it was as clear and iconic as the many subsequent versions we’ve seen of Night of the Living Dead, and I think it will appeal to many. For me, it encapsulates the pathos of Kirkman’s vision as clearly as anything else I’ve seen.
Ultimately I walked away with a quieter print, a linocut with watercolor that spoke to me the moment I walked into the booth. Funk’s work is “pensive” in the best possible sense of the word, and it’s no surprise she discusses “self-reflection” in her artist’s statement. The prints she pulls are all fundamentally moments taken out of time, with tension rising from things have come and gone, or are yet to be.
Her vision feels distinctly more urban than I would expect from any given artist out of Staunton. And it’s happily not full of the contemporary clichés that connote “urban,” but istead is part of the patchwork of city life that has captured the interest of creators as diverse as George Bellows and Kathe Koja. Her scenes are tight, with a world pressing in that is kept at bay by walls and curtains, where her subjects consider things that are just out of sight, be they people or ideas. I look forward to seeing her work grow and change over time.