"Serial Thrillers" at PVCC

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It takes a deft mind to craft intrigue from a pile of random photos or a box of junk. Anonymous faces gaze from the walls of PVCC’s north gallery, sharing a hallway with improbable cairns of corroded landfill fodder and ceramic. Yet each piece in “Serial Thrillers”—on display through Nov. 3 by noted local artists Reba Peck, Sharon Shapiro and Randy Bill—seems to hint at some fascinating untold story.

Take Peck’s mixed-media portraits. Each starts with a decades-old family photograph from albums left when her parents died in the ’90s. The faded shots fascinate the artist in ways that modern photos somehow do not.

“Even if it’s a picture of something really ugly, there’s still something there that draws you to it,” Peck says.

The artist captures that quality by pasting a copy of each image onto carefully selected squares of scrap metal found around her farm in Crozet. In a process she likens to Mexican retablo painting, she adds layer upon layer of bright pastel paint to create characters whose lives the viewer can’t help but wonder about: a little girl with a toy rocket, brothers walking down a street, a couple of kids smoking cigars.

Likewise, the subjects in Shapiro’s vivid acrylics look like they, too, have some fascinating gossip to spread, if only they could talk. The artist and 2009 Best of C-VILLE honoree also paints from photographs, with this particular series devoted to subjects coated in soapy lather.

Shapiro’s signature thick strokes and fluorescent backgrounds lend intensity to the faces of men and women bathing. We catch them washing hair or sitting in the tub, the artist granting us access to intimate and unguarded moments that pique the viewer’s curiosity. Even the fully clothed woman blowing a handful of dish-soap bubbles seems to offer a rare glimpse into the mysteries of private life. The exhibit’s only pencil drawing, entitled “colorblind,” features another bathing woman with color only in the background and around a single eye.

What Peck and Shapiro conjure from photographs, Bill constructs from the guts of long-abandoned machines paired with ceramic. In her case, the intrigue stems from the way she manages to make delicate and balanced sculptures out of items that include old artillery shells and rusted pipe.

“Stacks,” as she’s titled the series, features a few pieces of expertly thrown pottery, but always in concert with debris or antique-store finds. In one sculpture, a polished porcupine quill bisects the claw of an old hammer head balanced on a shining, black, porcelain orb sandwiched by machine parts. Another features yellowed mahjong tiles supporting more expertly crafted porcelain, this time adorned with old copper springs. Somehow she succeeds in her goal of marrying the utilitarian and the aesthetic, with the resulting sculpture as attractive as it is unlikely.

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