Illustrating the revolution: Locally connected artists to watch in 2015

Lord Nelson is a funk band built on Southern rock, and one to keep your eye on as the group expands its fan base beyond Central Virginia in 2015. Publicity photo. Lord Nelson is a funk band built on Southern rock, and one to keep your eye on as the group expands its fan base beyond Central Virginia in 2015. Publicity photo.

As the year draws to a close, we may opt to wrap ourselves in nostalgia for the past 12 months, making lists of what was great about 2014. Or we can choose to face forward with racing hearts, speculating on what will make the next year more interesting than the last. I’ll take the latter.

Charlottesville native Lily Erb recently returned to town and proceeded to take it by storm as a sculptor and printmaker. Her brightly colored, steel sculptures make for eye-catching wall art but she also positions them as outdoor installation pieces where the sculptural lines find commonality in the patterns of the natural environment. Indeed, the cascading waves of Erb’s work belies the rigidity of the steel from which it is shaped. Her prints share a similar feel: part sea anemone, part jellyfish and part vine. All are imbued with a shared grace and movement. In 2014, Erb exhibited her work at Mudhouse and was selected to participate in the 2014 Community Supported Artist (CSA) program at The Bridge PAI. She currently has work on display at Spring Street and it will be exciting to see what 2015 holds for this emerging artist.

As an illustrator for the best-selling Redwall series, Sean Rubin has the privilege of spending his days drawing plucky forest creatures and their revolutionary adventures, among other things. A Charlottesville transplant, Rubin is originally from Brooklyn, attended Princeton and became an English teacher before making the switch to illustrating, writing and other creative endeavors. In September, he joined the New City Arts’ artist residency program at The Haven. The upcoming year will bring the release of his children’s book Bolivar, about a dinosaur living discreetly in New York City, and the development of the story into a feature film by Warner Bros. In his free time, Rubin will work with guests at The Haven and host open studios in the new year.

Beth Macy is a writer who lives in Roanoke, but her talents easily transcend the two-hour drive from C’ville. Her new book, Factory Man, is an outgrowth of years of work and countless awards as a journalist. Though it is Macy’s first book, it’s included on The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2014 as well as Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. Further, Tom Hanks is developing it into an HBO miniseries, and Charlottesville will get to know Macy as she helps kick off the 2015 Festival of the Book with its leadership breakfast in March.

Victoria Long and Roger Williams are local artists working on a project in partnership with the Charlottesville Sister Cities Commission. With funding from the commission’s grant program and extra help from a Kickstarter campaign, the two made the trek to Pleven, Bulgaria (one of Charlottesville’s four sister cities) to serve as short-term cultural ambassadors. They traveled there to explore the city and record their experiences, eventually developing them into a small book and a cassette collection of field recordings. The pair will exhibit this work at The Garage in January, and it includes Super 8 film footage of Pleven. On a related note, for those interested in pursuing a project with our sister cities, the next round of grant applications for the Sister Cities Commission is due in January.

Lord Nelson formed in 2012, released its first recordings in 2013 and played an extensive number of local shows to support the release of a new single in 2014, so it’s exciting to consider what the group will do in 2015. As a band, there are two things you should know about Lord Nelson: It plays music that can easily be described as Southern rock and it has a trombone player. In spite of that, Lord Nelson puts on a damn fine show. Joking aside, this is a talented group, with an energizing stage presence and friendly banter that will win you over by the end of the first song. The current line-up features brothers Kai and Bram Crowe-Getty, Henry Jones, Robert Word and Trevor Pietsch. And since the group is scheduled to perform at The Whiskey Jar on the second night of the new year, Lord Nelson could be the first band you see live in 2015.

One more musician to keep an eye on in the new year is Betsy Wright. Though she no longer lives in town, many will remember her from the Charlottesville band, The Fire Tapes. She leapt seamlessly from that project into her current role as the bassist for the D.C.-based rock band, Ex Hex. Sharing the stage with indie rock legend Mary Timony (perhaps best known for her time in the band Helium) and drummer Laura Harris, Wright proves her chops as part of this cocksure trio. Already earning national attention in 2014 for its debut album Rips, Wright and Ex Hex will surely continue to be worth watching in the new year.

Which artists are you excited to see in 2015? Tell us in the comments.

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