MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We're going to stay on the art front now, but we're going to move down to old town Alexandria, Va. where the Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery is hosting an exhibit called "Fears and Phobias," a perfect fit for our radio show this week. So we sent Emily Friedman to find out how some of our nation's finest artists interpret their deepest, darkest anxieties.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
This is not an exhibit about fear of heights, reptiles or nuclear attack. For a show about fears and phobias, it's surprisingly subtle. Subtle, but sharp.
MS. LIA NEWMAN
It's a bandage laid out on what appears to be maybe a countertop and there's a piece of tape that the artist wrote, "Biopsy Number Two."
Lia Newman is the show's juror. She chose these works out of hundreds of submissions from all over the country. The piece we're looking at right now is by an artist from Georgia named Constance Tolkin. Newman chose this one because it's relatable. Gauze with blood on it and the words biopsy, she says, are enough to send just about anyone's mind reeling into oblivion of anxiety. Just to the left, Newman shows me a painting of the traditional European toile de jue. It's a style of fabric you've probably seen before on a pillow somewhere, with country folk frolicking in the meadow.
You know, there's all of these really cheerful people in swings and lovely dresses, basically with guns being aimed at them.
The people holding guns are not in lovely dresses. Some have their faces half covered by bandanas, their guns cocked sideways. Some are in full army fatigues and some are children in shorts and sandals all with their guns ready to shoot.
I think it's sort of the dichotomy of life and the dangers that might exist.
Suzanne Vigil is one of the local artists in the show. She's drawn a cockroach, a huge zoomed in cockroach.
MS. SUZANNE VIGIL
The name of the drawing is "Ick!" and I think that pretty much sums it up.
And since she works in the often slow medium of colored pencil, she says she spent about 100 hours face to face with the pest or at least a photo of it.
I just went online and looked at, googled cockroach and came up with a bunch of photographs. No, I didn't have one sitting on my desk.
It's about a cockroach, but she says it's also about all that you miss when you're looking down a creature from five or six feet above. Lia Newman, the show's juror, agrees.
We normally probably run away when we see, or I do, when I see a cockroach so I never get this close. So I think it helps us confront our fear and maybe make us realize it's not quite so bad.
Another work in the show by Chicago based artist, Iain Muirhead, is far less literal. It's a large painting, three feet by four feet, filled by the face of a man in glasses wearing a totally blank expression.
MR. IAIN MUIRHEAD
This came up because my niece, I found out, got herself, she's 11 years old and she got herself an account on MySpace and the people that were friending her were middle-aged men.
Muirhead wondered what could he do about this.
And how can I look at this in my work? So what I did is I researched all the sex offenders that were within four blocks of my studio.
And this guy, the one in the painting, is one of the them, though you'd only know if you read the title of the piece, which is the exact web URL where you can find this man's home address and photo. Muirhead has an entire portrait series of the sex offenders in his neighborhood. Most of the time, he says, it makes viewers uncomfortable, which is exactly what he's trying to do.
I had a group come into my studio when I had about six of these paintings done. Came in, immediately started gravitating toward the paintings and the drawings. These are wonderful. These are really beautifully painted. I love these. And so I started asking questions, you know, like, what do you think these have in common? And so, well, they're all men. Yes. And they're all aggressively painted and it's very exciting. When it was finally disclosed that, you know, these are all sex offenders that are within four blocks of this studio, there was some really upset folks in the room. They didn't want to be close to these images and they were humiliated that they were trying to embrace them and I thought that was fascinating.
Muirhead says, often we look away from the things we're afraid of without ever really examining them. And yet his painting demands a closer look. As you gaze at it or another of the 21 pieces of art that make up this show, don't be surprised if you can't stop staring, even though you may want to look away. I'm Emily Friedman.
"Fears and Phobias" runs through February 19th at the Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery. To get a preview of Suzanne Vigil's cockroach and the other works we just mentioned, check out our website, metroconnection.org.
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