3 artists ex­plore sim­i­lar themes at McColl

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY COURT­NEY DEVORES Arts cor­re­spon­dent

The three artists whose work cu­ra­tor Tom Stanley pulled to­gether for “New Works/Alumni One” at the McColl Cen­ter for Art + Innovation are vastly dif­fer­ent — yet ex­plore sim­i­lar themes through tex­tiles, pho­tog­ra­phy, and draw­ings. And each has Caroli­nas con­nec­tions:

JONATHAN PRICHARD

From across the room, Jonathan Prichard’s black-and-white pen draw­ings of royal char­ac­ters, orig­i­nally cre­ated for a per­for­mance art piece by his group Sin­er­gismo, re­flect the sharp lines and big ges­tures of the show, which pre­miered at April’s Boom Fes­ti­val. Step closer and you pick up on the patch­work of de­tail that forms suits of ar­mor and rigid crowns. Get even closer — nose al­most pressed to the glass of the frame — and you find minis­cule linework and in­tri­cate pat­terns embed­ded in each form.

“The idea was to take the struc­ture — even just the out­line of each char­ac­ter — and, through the process of draw­ing, in­ves­ti­gate all the lit­tle com­po­nents of that char­ac­ter,” says Prichard, who lives in Char­lotte. “To think of a scene or two that was most mem­o­rable that the char­ac­ter went through, and hide all that stuff within the in­te­rior of the draw­ing.”

The orig­i­nal show fea­tured large rolling wood pan­els that served as both cos­tume and shield.

“I wanted to think about that as a de­fense mech­a­nism. (For the pan­els) I was try­ing to sim­plify things and work with sharp an­gles and be very clean. With the draw­ings I wanted to keep the sharp an­gles but work al­most fren­zied.

“It was sort of about this need to de­fend one’s self from an at­tack — th­ese stress­ful sit­u­a­tions,” he says. “In the per­for­mance, the king dies and no­body has any idea what to do, be­cause the king was the one that al­lowed the group to work to­gether and pro­tect them­selves.”

Af­ter work­ing on mul­ti­dis­ci­pline per­for­mances with the en­sem­ble and cre­at­ing large-scale his­tor­i­cal ex­hibits at his day job for the York County Mu­seum, re­turn­ing to sim­ple ink and pa­per as a solo artist was a bit daunt­ing.

“That was the scary thing. Right off the bat I was think­ing of do­ing big flashy work that’s go­ing to catch peo­ple’s at­ten­tion,” says Prichard, who was en­cour­aged by cu­ra­tor Stanley to fo­cus on draw­ing. “I re­ally wanted to hone in on this re­ally sim­ple foun­da­tional way of work­ing and still try to de­liver a pow­er­ful set of im­ages.”

While most of Sin­er­gismo’s projects have been one-off per­for­mances, “Not See For Look­ing” con­tin­ues to evolve. An­other per­for­mance is set for Nov. 29, dur­ing a party cel­e­brat­ing the clos­ing fall art res­i­den­cies as well as alumni work at the McColl Cen­ter.

“The ul­ti­mate goal is for the char­ac­ters to take on their own life,” he says. “It feels like there’s plenty of ground to ex­plore.”

MICHAELA PI­LAR BROWN

Al­though Michaela Pi­lar Brown grew up in Colorado, each sum­mer she would re­turn to her fa­ther’s na­tive South Carolina, where the fam­ily would com­mune with other mem­bers of the African Methodist Epis­co­pal (A.M.E.) Zion Church at a week­long re­vival on the grounds of Camp Wel­fare. It was there, among the small clap­board build­ings Brown’s grand­fa­ther helped build, that she staged her lat­est photographic ex­plo­ration into his­tory, form and place.

“I’m al­ways talk­ing about is­sues that re­late to the em­bod­i­ment of black­ness. A lot of it cen­ters around per­sonal his­tory, ei­ther re­lated to ob­jects or ge­og­ra­phy,” Brown says.

Founded shortly af­ter the Civil War, Camp Wel­fare has hosted the an­nual A.M.E. camp­ground re­vival for more than 160 years. “It was the one place as a child where you could have free­dom. That was where all eyes were on you and no eyes were on you,” she says.

“It’s a part of this tra­di­tion of the A.M.E. Church and it’s also a lit­tle sec­u­lar. I grew up watch­ing that,” she says, rais­ing the ques­tion: “What is black faith? It’s sec­u­lar and sa­cred and pro­tected in that way ... Black Amer­i­cans have been un­der­felt from the mo­ment we got here. I’m par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in those places we find com­fort. Where we feel like we can be our­selves.”

She was liv­ing in D.C., where she’d at­tended Howard Univer­sity in the ’90s, when her fa­ther was di­ag­nosed with can­cer and be­gan to suf­fer from Alzheimer’s. That drew her back to South Carolina in the early 2000s, and she found her­self car­ing for him and ab­sorb­ing area his­tory.

Brown, who does per­for­mance art as well as paint­ing, col­lage and other me­dia, often ap­pears in her works. “I be­gan to think of my­self as ma­te­rial,” she says. In th­ese pho­to­graphs, Brown stalks the prop­erty un­clothed, squat­ting in high grass, some­times armed with tools and weapons. It’s a bit of script flip­ping, she says. “What if those things that were used to de­mean and de­stroy us be­came the tools of our re­sis­tance?”

The im­ages don’t nec­es­sar­ily de­pict a dis­tinct time and place, al­though their ori­gins are linked to Brown’s his­tory. “I try to op­er­ate with a lit­tle hu­mor or fan­tasy,” she says. “If this were a dystopian cul­ture and I was a sole sur­vivor, what would be the tools I’d use? How would I move through space? How much is an evo­lu­tion of those things we’ve en­dured? What would we hang on to?”

ERIKA DI­A­MOND

Di­a­mond’s work has long ex­plored im­mor­tal­ity, from draw­ings made from strands of her hair to fam­ily slides. There’s even a list of ways to live for­ever on her web­site. But her work took on a more lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion af­ter the 2016 Pulse Night Club shoot­ing in Or­lando.

“I was con­cerned, and my friends were con­cerned, but I didn’t know if the general pub­lic was as af­fected emo­tion­ally by it,” says Di­a­mond, whose par­ents have a long his­tory on the Char­lotte bal­let scene. “I wanted to do a project where I could think of a way to pro­tect my com­mu­nity.”

She knew she wanted to take a per­sonal ap­proach to work­ing with bul­let­proof ma­te­rial “with­out mak­ing it about me,” says Di­a­mond. “I started think­ing about the peo­ple in my life now. Then it be­came a larger project.”

She thought “The Queer Col­lec­tion” would con­sist of snazzy club wear made of Kevlar. In­stead, she made pieces specif­i­cally for peo­ple she knew, and each per­son’s style shaped her de­sign. She made a Kevlar hooded vest with a soft jer­sey lin­ing for a friend from high school who prefers ca­sual hoo- dies. An­other friend de­scribed her look to Di­a­mond as “a drag queen’s style with a Western flair.”

So “I was like ‘Oh, you’re get­ting pearl snaps and gold pip­ing and a shinier Kevlar fab­ric,’ ” says Di­a­mond.

She in­cor­po­rated weav­ing tech­niques, which she’d stud­ied while get­ting an MFA at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity, into other pieces. She used a loom to make the Kevlar “lapghan” blan­ket and cre­ated a flowy, fem­i­nine bob­bin lace vest.

“I wouldn’t count on it be­ing 100 per­cent bul­let­proof, but the idea is still there. It got me think­ing about who would need a lace vest and who would need some­thing more pro­tec­tive. Who we give pro­tec­tion to is an­other big ques­tion.”

The project is partly tongue-in-cheek, she says: “I don’t think me mak­ing fes­tive Kevlar gar­ments is the way to solve the prob­lem.” Then again, “if this is the way things con­tinue, I like to think of the queer com­mu­nity as pretty re­silient. If I have to wear a pro­tec­tive vest to go about my daily busi­ness, then what do I want it to look like? So there’s a light­hearted as­pect to it, but ob­vi­ously there’s prob­lem­atic sub­ject mat­ter imbed­ded within it.”

This story is part of an Ob­server un­der­writ­ing project with the Thrive Cam­paign for the Arts, sup­port­ing arts jour­nal­ism in Char­lotte.

Courtesy of the artist

Michaela Pi­lar Brown.

Courtesy of the artist

“Spi­der” Vest by Erika Di­a­mond: Kevlar thread, bob­bin-lace weav­ing; worn by Jamee­lah.

Courtesy of the artist

Erika Di­a­mond

Courtesy of the artist

Jonathan Prichard

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