Mixed-media artists Renee Stout and Odinga Tyehimba--whose collaborative and other works are on exhibit at the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE) through July 5--were at very different stages in their careers when they met in 2012 as participants in a three-person show in at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design in Raleigh. N.C.
With a BFA from Carneige-Mellon University, Stout was a much respected, established artist—some have even called her an “institution”--in Washington, D.C.
The recipient of many awards, her art works are in many museum collections, including the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in this region, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Tyehimba, on the other hand, now a resident of North Carolina, had at this point not exhibited much. Self-taught and known primarily for his woodcarving, he was born Stanley Gardner in Mississippi and became a working artist 17 years ago after growing up on military bases, enlisting in the Marines while in high school and later joining the Army.
A rap enthusiast, gamer and self-professed former “angry young man who wanted to change the world,” when he began making art, Tyehimba said, “I began looking inside. … I discovered that I had to change to find myself.”
Despite their differing paths, opposite genders and the differences in their art, after meeting, they quickly recognized their many affinities.
Both create deeply personal, provocative, narrative works that are rooted in equally intense interests in belief systems, racial oppression, identity, politics and other global issues as well as their common African-American ancestry and its heritage of spirituality, healing, myth and ritual.
Both also have a mutual fascination with materials that relate to the transference of power and information, like old radios, circuit boards, electrical generators and other found objects.
“In this technological age, in our disposable culture, I don’t want to see things like that cast off,” Stout said. “I’m taking old technology and making art out of it … I’m free to change it; I’m not bound by what it’s supposed to do.”
The works on exhibition at GRACE—Stout’s sculptural assemblages and meticulous drawings and Tyehimba’s powerful wooden totems and other multi-media works—are the results of their “fertile,” recent collaboration. Titled “Incubator,” it also includes many jointly created pieces.
“This not your typical curated exhibition,” explained Holly McCullough, GRACE’s executive director, who prompted its inception by asking Stout “what would it take to get you to exhibit in our gallery.”
What it took was giving Stout the go-ahead to reconnect with Tyehimba and launch what Stout refers to as their joint “adventure.”
Normally “resistant to the idea of collaboration,” Tyehimba admitted, “I am opinionated and strong-willed; it takes a lot of courage to work with me.”
McCullough, conceding that she only saw the works in bits and pieces before they were ready to exhibit, said, “I love the idea that GRACE could be an incubator for this type of creative process.”
When she did see them all together, McCullough was struck by how much power and meaning the two artists invested in their assemblages using “mundane” found objects: “electrical power, spiritual power, political power, personal power, all kinds of power … thoughtful work that you need to give time.”
“No one is ever allowed to see my process; it took a lot of trust,” Stout said admiringly of McCullough and GRACE.
Both Stout and Tyehimba talked about the joy and intensity of the process, being totally in “the zone” when they worked, their far-ranging dialogues, and the consistent creative energy and spirituality that the collaboration engendered.
“The final product is for the public to see; the process is for me. … It becomes spiritual; it’s hard to allow people to intrude; it would alter what I’m doing,” Stout said.
Stout and Tyehimba will present a free Artists Talk on Thursday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at GRACE.
The new exhibition at the McLean Project for the Arts’ Emerson Gallery, “Transformations: From One Thing to Another,” delves into malleability and other aspects of change.
Animated by multiple visual perspectives, this juried show, on view through Aug. 2, features the works of 33 mid-Atlantic artists, executed in a broad range of styles and media.
For Jack Rasmussen, the exhibition’s juror, the theme “transformation” provided him with welcome latitude. Speaking at the exhibition’s June 12 opening, Rasmussen, director and curator of American University Museum at the Katzen, suggested that it was “a nice metaphor for art in general.”
Reflecting on the diversity of artistic approaches and his own selection process, Rasmussen acknowledged that some of the works submitted made it “easy,” were overtly about transformation while others took much more subtle visual paths.
Examples of this diversity were readily apparent in the exhibition’s five prizewinners, chosen by Rasmussen, who was already well acquainted with many of the exhibition’s artists.
Described by Rasmussen as “a gorgeous, gorgeous piece,” Barbara Januszkiewicz’s watercolor juxtaposes brilliant veils of transparent colors “suspended in a secret sauce.” The “sauce” is paint that she makes herself, and the veils are created by the use of wallpaper brushes.
In contrast, Travis Childers’ sculpture—a Styrofoam ball densely and obsessively covered with rice--is both deceptively simple in form and monochromatic color at the same time incredibly complex in construction and cultural and geopolitical meaning.
Rasmussen complimented Childers for his combination of “formal elements” and “kooky materials.”
Childers later explained, “I use everyday materials. … I don’t shop at art stores. I shop at grocery stores, hardware stores. … I see the world as full of endless possibilities [for art].”
Other MPA prize winners included: Karen Birch’s intricately embroidered floral fantasies on silk; Kurt Godwin’s large, brilliantly colored and elaborately dense forest-like landscape; and Stephanie George’s oil monoprint, a softly colorful, yet powerfully surreal interpretation of a dream.
One of the most striking works in the MPA exhibition is a room-sized architectural sculpture combined, for the exhibition opening, with performance art by Andrew Wodzianski. Titled “Self-portrait as Billy Pilgrim,” the sculpture looked like the bones of a geodesic dome. Inside, Wodzianski, covered in a white sheet and holding an open copy of “Valley of the Dolls” as if reading, lay absolutely motionless.
Rasmussen joked that it was probably fortunate that Wodzianski had not won a prize because he couldn’t move to collect it.
For two of the artists in the juried show, it comes at a time of artistic change.
Well-known fiber artist Kate Kretz, whose extremely evocative works were a major part of the recent “Stitch” exhibition at GRACE, entered a mixed-media work composed of cotton thread embroidered on cotton velvet. Known for also meticulously embroidering with hair, Kretz said she moved to fiber art 10 years ago but recently has decided to return to her first love, oil painting.
Painter Jo Fleming, a long-time resident of Great Falls, has two large acrylics in the exhibition, whose subjects represent a new exploration.
Someone whose works “respond to things around the neighborhood,” Fleming said both—“Tree House” and “Lost Oak”—delve into the idea of trees as symbolic repositories of memory.
“Lost Oak,” for instance, was inspired by a cynosure tree that once stood in front of Unity of Fairfax Church on Hunter Mill Road in Oakton until it was hit by lightning and cut down.
In “Lost Oak,” a small portrait of the tree in front of the church building is dramatically surrounded by a large field of textured color created from rubbings made from the bark of the fallen tree.
“These are from a whole new series so to have them selected is really exciting,” Fleming said.
July will be an active month at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton. In addition to spotlighting four “featured artists,” there will be a group studio exhibition, featuring 15 artists from Studio 5.
The theme of the studio exhibition, July 9-Aug. 3, will be “Keeping It Cool.” All month long, Studio 5 artists will be creating their outside-the-box interpretations of “cool.”
Workhouse’s July featured artists include: painter Lynn Goldstein (Building W-6), glass artist Winn Jones (Building W-7), clay artist Pamela Eisenmann (Building W-8), and photographer Rick Reda (Gallery 902)
Commenting on her theme of “Common Ground,” Goldstein said: “Being in nature is where I retreat to recharge my energy. This holds true whether close to home or far afield. I look for the common ground for inspiration in my work. … This exhibition represents the common thread that I find in trees and water reflections in France and in my own backyard.”
Jones invites the public to “come spend some ‘Lazy Daze’ at the Glasshouse, Building 7, and meet my flameworked glass whimsical works.”
Eisenmann presents a collection of recent works that explore variations in form, from organic to whimsical. Employing imagery borrowed from ancient Egyptian tomb art, one group of vessels is a series that imagines animals as relic keepers. Eisenmann said: “I am attracted to the sensuous aspects of clay and am especially fond of full, fat forms that resemble living, growing things, sometimes creature-based, sometimes more botanical. Clay work gives me a chance to invent.”
Reda, a photographer for more than 40 years, specializes in landscapes and wildlife subjects taken during travels from Alaska to Antarctica. Over the years he has transitioned from film photography to digital photography. His current works are in both media.
An opening reception for all will be held campus-wide during the Workhouse’s monthly Second Saturday Art Walk, July 12, from 6-9 p.m.