Adrift in Will May's sea of images

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Will May says he doesn’t want me to write about the small picture of an open-mouthed Glenn Beck that sits at the center of a large picture collage, “Animalarm.” The image greets visitors to his exhibit, “Half Life,” now on display at PVCC’s South Gallery. Surrounding Beck is a collage of “alarmed-looking animals” from 17th century Dutch paintings that May took at a North Carolina museum. It’s hard to ignore. There he is. Glenn Beck in a Viking helmet.




Will May at his show “Half Life,” on view through November 3 in the South Gallery of PVCC’s Dickinson Building.




“Half Life,” collects a wide array of the LOOK3 exhibitions director’s recent works as he eyes a move away from managing the burgeoning photography festival, and toward a life more filled with making art. At first walk through, the show feels inconsistent—sometimes horrific, sometimes hilarious. One half of the gallery is filled with photographs that recall the vivid color of vintage magazine ads, including an iconic picture of a deep red vacuum cleaner in the hallway of a New York City apartment building.

The other half gets a little tricky. There is no way to tell, when standing close to “Memorial 3,” that the static viewed up close will resolve to the image of a face as you step backward. Or that what connects the collage of 190 men in “All Will May” is that they are all men named “Will May” whose photographs May pulled from the Internet. 

For the image “Half Life,” May photographed another artist through shattered safety glass, which functions as a jagged shield between the viewer and his subject. It is a show that foregrounds—revels in, even—the uneasy relationship between a photographer and his subject, and the image and its viewer. 

In a glass display case is “Stolen,” an old iBook that runs a slideshow that May says he was conflicted about showing. “I don’t know if I have the right to share this on the Internet or in a museum,” he says. The story is this: A friend purchased a laptop at an auction, and found on it images of two couples—one old, and one very young, all staring into the camera with bloodshot eyes—passing between them what appears to be a bowl—like, for smoking marijuana. On the wall hangs the story of the laptop with specifics, including names, redacted beneath thick black bars. Just as incriminating Polaroids turn up in the drawers of discarded bedside tables, there is some dark and dusty corner of the information superhighway where some damning image of each of us lurks. And, boy, isn’t that just the creepiest?

So Glenn Beck’s doughy visage is not a comment on America’s bizarre political climate. Instead, Beck’s is merely one of the many faces that float in what May calls the “sea of images” that characterizes life in the modern world. As May says about one piece, “It definitely gives me second thoughts about Facebook.”

About-face

Across town this month at The Bridge/PAI, “Leaf and Signal” is a different kind of sea of images. Unlike “Half Life” there is no riptide waiting to pull you under. It is yours to swim in, this placid bay of gorgeous of little mysteries.

Local artist Warren Craghead curated this show, which draws from the (apparently robust) world of D.I.Y. publishing, many of whose denizens are in Europe. “The work is close to their life, but not autobiographical in a dramatic way,” says Craghead, who himself contributes to these handmade, mostly Internet-distributed pamphlets. 

One highlight: Oliver East, a Manchester-based artist who makes beautiful booklets about his travels along train tracks. His and many other tiny surprises are wheatpasted to the walls of The Bridge/PAI through the end of the month.

For your amusement

What has three pieces, wails like mad and turns about in a big room upon spinning spires? The band MUSE, of course, who you can find at the John Paul Jones Arena this week. Visit the Feedback Blog at c-ville.com for a chat with drummer Dominic Howard.