Art sounds a lot like remodeling. Hammers clunk. Power tools grind. People duck into the next room to help lift things. On most days these noises and the quiet spaces between them help make the McGuffey Art Center a superb place to survey Charlottesville’s visual talent. True to form, this year’s new members show offers a generous range of styles from the latest working artists to join the center’s ranks.
Cities can be dystopian as well, she said, and she’s currently exploring this love-hate relationship by recreating dense urban scenes in the nostalgic colors of her childhood. There’s Barbie pink, radium blue, surging yellows and other colors from the Asian cartoons Sangeun said she watched growing up near Seoul, South Korea. Anything natural in the painting is white, balancing the visual onslaught with generous sections of canvas devoted to cloudscapes or trees outlined as empty space.In the main hallway, its hard to keep your eyeballs away from the sizzling neon of Sangeun Yu’s acrylic cityscapes. Thick layers of paint stand like puffy stickers atop each other. Using shapes of unnaturally bright color, the artist outlines walls, power lines and the sundry textures that somehow make urban areas more intriguing than the sum of their buildings.
“I just made up my own utopia,” Sangeun said. At her work table, a painting took shape from a photo of a dreary intersection on a wet day.
For a sense of the diversity at McGuffey, just look across from Sangeun’s outsized canvases to the impressionistic oils of Priscilla Long Whitlock, whose study of nature has found her painting in places like Acadia National Park, rural France, and the Blue Ridge. Her triptych entitled “Blue Chicory Field” seems to magnify the striking colors of a blooming meadow through the bottom of a mason jar. Whitlock lays out gauzy greens, bits of orange, and hundreds of carefully mixed colors in wide strokes that often bend off in unlikely directions. The effect leans toward the abstract while still capturing the myriad reflections and tones that make a moment in nature worth painting.
Proving there’s no shortage of captivating images to discover indoors, as well, photographer Kim Kelley-Wagner challenges viewers with “The Ghost’s Library.” The series takes place in an old building with whitewash crumbling from the walls and thick sills reminiscent of church windows. The artist shoots young girls in dresses, stacks of old books, and an empty wheelchair facing a light-brimming hallway in scenes that create an evocative, if unsettling, mood.
Exhibit visitors should be mindful not to neglect the hallways upstairs, where Snowden Hall recreates a shadowy Haitian bar scene and preparations for a voodoo festival. Beside them hang five portraits in oil, charcoal, pencil, and Conte crayon. We’re given little more than the French names of the subjects, yet their depictions—terse, weary, curious and bemused in everyday settings—give a deep look into the personality of each.
There’s much more worth mentioning in the show, like painter John J. Trippel’s animated scenes from around town or Kathy Plunket Versluys’ ability to show depth and motion in the seemingly rigid medium of monotype prints. As McGuffey’s members, new and old, labor away at the newest of Charlottesville’s visual arts, you’ll just have to see for yourself.