Artist hunter [with video!]

Artist hunter [with video!]

The twisting, snaking mob of bodies that extends along the Downtown Mall has tendrils that seem to extend into every art gallery in sight, and Curt is caught in the middle, misled by his love of sensible snack platters and sparkling water, certain that Sharon Shapiro could paint his picture in this situation.

All work and no display: "Hinged," one of the handful of new, paired portraits by your favorite local artist, Sharon Shapiro.

But on this muggy First Friday, your favorite local artist (see page 45) is nowhere to be found. Vowing to stay on Shapiro’s trail—what is that painter of provocative, emotionally loaded portraits up to?—CC ducks into the closest gallery at the moment: McGuffey Art Center.

Double vision: "My work deals with appearance, beauty and what the world perceives, but also how we piece things together," says Shapiro

The night is young, and most of the ‘ville voyeurs are still in the Main Street galleries, so Curt gets first dibs on the spread of crackers and beverages in Cynthia Burke‘s studio while the artist (next in line to the elusive Shapiro’s throne) updates him. It seems that Burke—who finished in second place in the local artist category for her paintings of humane animals, as seen in this year’s "Beauty/Beast" exhibit—plans to enter the running for best local actor in 2008; she landed the role of "Virginia" in The Clean House, which opens the 2007-2008 Live Arts season on September 14.

On the way out, CC drops by Russell Richards‘ studio to say howdy. Richards mentioned that, due to a recent hospitalization and a long recovery, his September show with McGuffey sculptor Robert Bricker will now instead be a one-man show. Speedy recovery, Russ.

Video of First Fridays.

Thus spake Homer Simpson

As his search for Shapiro stretched into a second hour, Curt began to feel the trail had gone cold and decided to perk up his ears (read: shamelessly eavesdrop) while infiltrating a few more galleries. After stopping by Les Yeux du Monde to see Rob Tarbell‘s smoke-tinged paintings, CC headed over to Cassis where, catching a stray comment about The Simpsons Movie, his O.C.D. (Obsessive Cartoon Disorder) took over and he lost Shapiro’s trail entirely.

All thanks to Paul Cantor, a professor of English at UVA, a Shakespeare specialist and "prominent Simpsonologist" (a title recently conferred by London’s Daily Telegraph). Cantor, who will spend the fall at Harvard "teaching Shakespeare to government majors," is the author of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization. And, frankly, the man knows his Homer.

Since the film’s opening, Cantor has commented on everything from the importance of the Simpson family dynamic to the demographics of Springfield, the fictional family’s hometown. "What I liked best about it was the politics—I’m a libertarian, and a big fan of ‘South Park,’" says Cantor. "And the principal villain is the Environmental Protection Agency—[the film] really took on the apocalyptic mentality of the environmentalists."

Ultimately, Cantor praised the film as "having heart, as the Simpsons always have," though he concedes that the length of the film lets characters indulge emotions and faults to greater extents. "The degree to which Homer is self-absorbed is carried to an extreme," says Cantor.
Speaking of self-absorbed, where did Curt leave off? Ah, yes—where the hell is Sharon Shapiro?

Detail of "Trigger" by Sharon Shapiro.

Catch and release

"For a typical artist, to have a solo show once a year is a lot—it’s like a band putting out an album once a year," says Shapiro—at last!—tracked down a few days later. "People always ask me if I’m having a show in Charlottesville."

No local shows on the horizon yet, but Shapiro has been hard at work preparing a show for Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia. And if it seems like the wait between local shows by Shapiro has been twice as long as usual (her last solo show in town was a 2004 exhibit at Second Street Gallery), it’s because her workload has doubled.

"My most recent work is getting into painting twosomes, twins, brothers and sisters," says Shapiro. Though Shapiro maintains that she isn’t great at discussing her work (her artist’s statement mentions the "conflict between inner and outer existence," but is slightly dated, she says) Curt presses for details.

"I did this one painting of these babies—Siamese twins—that I found in an old, 1950s Life magazine," says Shapiro. "One is asleep, one is awake, and they have a blanket over them so you can’t really see where they’re joined. One confronts, one closes his eyes—there’s an interdependence."

In her past portraits, Shapiro’s subjects are confrontational; the way in which they directly engage the viewer often undercuts the tone of the painting as a whole. By adding a second figure, Shapiro’s subjects interact with another being in their immediate space as well as a gallery audience.

"I wanted to deal not only with the formal aspects of two things relating together, [but] the formal aspects of having to deal with painting something, then painting something else right next to it."

Shapiro says that she may have an open studio session at some point in the near future. Thrilled at his success in capturing the exotic artist, if only to release her again for a moment, Curt will keep you posted on her work.

Friends and foe-try

Deborah Eisenberg could be a contender! Eisenberg’s Twilight of the Superheroes is one of a few local works of fiction and nonfiction in the running for a cash prize from the Library of Virginia. Not pictured: brilliant poetry

The Library of Virginia recently announced the finalists for its 10th annual Literary Awards, a scant list of nine nominees whittled down from 128 books. And while a few local contenders will live to put their dukes up once more (during the October 20 awards ceremony in Richmond), a handful of worthy wordsmiths are packing it up and packing it in.

Hey, don’t knock Curt for being a bit glum! Sure, UVA creative writing professor Deborah Eisenberg is still in the running in the fiction category (Twilight of the Superheroes) and both Donna Lucey (Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age) and UVA Assistant Dean of Arts & Sciences Lorraine Gates Schuyler (The Weight of their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s) are still in the running. But, in the poetry department—where Charlottesville writers typically run the show—a few local favorites are going home early, among them Stephen Cushman (Heart Island: Poems), Vice Mayor Kendra Hamilton (The Goddess of Gumbo: Poems) and Charles Wright (Scar Tissue). For the record, CC still has his money on Wright for the People’s Choice Award for cranking out Littlefoot, the poetic equivalent of "Freebird." Make us proud, Chucky, baby!

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