Colony by Mellisa Precise
During this weekend’s Galley Hop, the Association for Visual Arts’ own gallery will open its annual “Fresh” exhibit, featuring the work of new and emerging artists from around the Southeast. Over the years, the “emerging” tag has included artists ranging from just out of high school to creators in their sixties, explains AVA’s Lauren Goforth. But the idea is always to show Chattanooga something unusual.
“It’s about showing things that are not necessarily seen in Chattanooga all the time,” says Goforth. After several years as a program assistant, beginning this month Goforth is AVA’s director of education and exhibitions following Mark Bradley-Shoup’s departure to teach full time at UTC.
“Fresh is usually a more avant-garde show, usually a lot of installations, a lot of abstract work,” she says. “But that’s not always the case. We have some really nice figurative work in this show. It’s always work that’s top notch when it comes to technique and execution, but the subject matter can really run the gamut.”
AVA will host an opening reception for “Fresh” from 2-8 p.m. during Gallery Hop on Saturday, Sept. 8, at their gallery located at 30 Frazier Ave. The exhibit will continue through Oct. 13.
The Pulse spoke to three of this year’s 11 “Fresh” artists. Their work in AVA’s annual exhibit ranges from digitally manipulated photographic meditations on cultural identity, to a sculpted reflection on the permanence of matter, and an artistic MRI riffing on classical mythology.
Bauby Tan of Duluth, Ga., who has one year left in an undergraduate printmaking program at the University of Georgia, explores issues of racial and cultural identity through digital manipulation of family photos.
“Sol and Luna” is a pair of images based on the same photo of the artist’s mother in her wedding dress. The Sol image places her against a golden sun and a white background, while the Luna has a moon and black background. In both images, her eyes are covered by a white strip with something written in Korean.
The images relate to a Korean folktale about the creation of the sun and moon, according to Tan. In the folk tale, a poor mother taking care of her two children sells dumplings in the market to support the family. On the way home one day, a tiger threatens to eat her unless she feeds him with the leftover dumplings. She gives him the dumplings, but the tiger eats her anyway, then dresses in her clothes and goes to find her children. The children run away to the sky and become the sun and moon.
The Korean text covering his mother’s eyes reads, “We’ll see better days.”
“I related with those children. I didn’t come up in best upbringing financially,” Tan says. “My parents divorced at a young age. It’s very weird and unheard of for Asian parents in Asian culture to divorce. It’s been a struggle to get back on our feet. The children in the story are living a brand new life as the sun and moon. For me, we haven’t reached that point but there is hope.”
Melissa Precise of Birmingham, Ala., is represented appropriately by “Colony,” an installation of upward reaching wooden slats. With its clean lines and neat groupings of wooden pieces, it is neither entirely abstract nor obviously representational. It might be a city or it might be a different kind of colony.
“If you look at bacteria in a Petri dish, you see dense circles that spread out toward the edge, and in between are uncolonized places,” Precise says. “If you look at man’s environment from a satellite view, we do the same things. We’re not so separate from nature as we like to believe sometimes.”
Precise admits to being a little bit of a nerd. Now in her first year of a sculpture MFA at Louisiana State University, she has an undergraduate degree in biology and an MFA in visual arts from the University of Alabama.
“Wood has interesting life cycle,” she says. “When it’s growing and living it creates a built environment in nature, it colonizes nature. When it’s dead it’s given a rebirth in a new way when we make architecture,” she adds. “I’m interested in the permanence of matter, in how matter is only transformed, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”
Gabriel Regagnon, one of several Chattanooga artists featured in the exhibit, has two black and white monotype prints in “Fresh.” He explains the monotype printmaking process as painting directly on a hard surface with oil ink, then taking a single impression from the plate. Because there is no engraved or cut surface, only one print is possible.
Much of his work is inspired by classical mythology, including “Diomedes’ Nightmare,” which is part of a series of 27 prints inspired by myth of the 12 labors of Hercules.
“When you get a story in mythology or literature you always find these quirky things that don’t make sense,” Regagnon says. “To me that’s sort of a clue that they’re using imagery to illustrate a symbol or allegory. To me the labors of Hercules have to do with the development of the primitive man into an idealized version, what the Greeks wanted to say was a whole man.”
Regagnon’s monoprint shows two cutaway views of a man’s head with a horse’s head inside. The mythic story tasks Hercules with reining in horses that are devouring men. “How can that be,” asks Regagnon. “It doesn’t make sense. How could a horse eat a man? What it means to me is that the horses represent our thoughts. When we rein in our thoughts we take control of our person, of the physical attributes of ourselves.”
He compares this work to an MRI image of a human head. “I’m trying to uncover the process of how our minds work, and I’m trying to illustrate this using paint and paper.”
This year’s lineup of 11 “Fresh” artists was chosen from 32 who applied from around the Southeast:
• Bauby Tan of Duluth, Ga.
• Claudia Dominguez of Raleigh, N.C.
• Gabriel Regagnon of Chattanooga.
• Hollin Norwood of Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Justin Hamer of Chattanooga.
• Keely Finnegan of Johnson City.
• Mark McLeod of Ooltewah.
• Matthew Dutton of Chattanooga.
• Melissa Precise of Pelham, Ala.
• Taylor Thomas of Nashville.
• Victoria Campbell of McDonough, Ga.