Review: Les Yeux du Monde shows brilliance in black and white

Ivy Naté (work above) is among the artists featured in Les Yeux du Monde’s “Expressions in Black and White.” Courtesy artist Ivy Naté (work above) is among the artists featured in Les Yeux du Monde’s “Expressions in Black and White.” Courtesy artist

With “Expressions in Black and White” at Les Yeux du Monde, gallery director Lyn Warren brings together four artists whose work spans a range of media, from soft sculpture to monotypes, and offers juxtapositions of technique and style that are both visually interesting and thought-provoking.

“For this show, what really inspired me was the materials. I’ve been looking at new materials and how to use them to inform new processes,” says sculptor Nick Watson. “I’m trying to add some things in a more interesting way.”

Watson works from preliminary drawings and directly from the materials, which consist of a variety of metals, wood and acrylic. “The finished piece never comes out the way the sketches look in the beginning,” he says.

The recent UVA graduate is employed by Charlottesville’s Monolith Knives, which manufactures artisanal knives. “Working with the knives has instilled a finer attention to detail…helped me to slow down and not rush through things,” he says. “Knife-making has also expanded the range of materials I’m comfortable working with.”

It’s clear that Watson values craftsmanship. His “Ave” mounts to the wall so that some of the mounting hardware becomes the piece and the rest is hidden, and “Heavy Moon” features a zinc disk pierced by a copper chain that suspends a sideways pendulum. A kinetic element runs through much of the work. Some, like Watson’s mobiles, actually move, others suggest movement through the thrust of a shape.

It’s hard to resist Ivy Naté’s animals. Her inside-out IFFMs (Inanimate Furry Family Members) are made, “exactly how they sound like they’re made,” says Naté. She works exclusively with stuffed animals that have been thrown away, characterizing them as “unaccepted items that I have chosen to accept.”

Naté’s IFFMs are hapless, vulnerable creatures you want to cuddle, and thanks to their surprised bug eyes, somewhat creepy. You’re attracted and also a little repelled by them. This tension continues with mixed-media works that have been dipped in a plaster-like material rendering it into something brittle and hard. The outer shell adds a degree of gravitas to the work that’s no longer recognizable as a child’s toy. The forlorn little “Owl” with wings outstretched pulls at your heartstrings and the “Owl in Costume” is laugh-out-loud funny. Naté works with restraint, doing just enough to create artworks that are imbued with striking emotional resonance.

In a sense, David Wilson Hawkins also takes an inside-out approach using the subtractive, or dark field method, to make his black-and-white monotypes. Beginning with a plate entirely covered with ink, the ink is removed by degrees until the desired image is created, and then the plate is run through a press to produce a one-off print.

In Hawkins’ hands, the results are supremely satisfying. His romantic compositions, “Hurry Up Please, It’s Time” and “Ninety-Nine and One Half Days,” evoke an academic grandeur, but also possess a brutish dash thanks to a medium that tempers the beauty, and places them solidly in the here and now. “I like the way they come out looking like badass, beat-up Xerox copies of photographs of landscapes,” Hawkins says.

It’s clear he knows his way around a picture plane. You see this in the confidence of Hawkins’ line and form and how they relate and interact within the composition. The absence of color means the attention of both the artist and the viewer is trained on these elements. And like a great old film, you don’t miss the color, but appreciate the rich gradations of tone that he achieves and how he adeptly conveys the lushness of the landscape.

“I would definitely say my work is very process-oriented,” says Suzanne Tanner Chitwood. “As much as I can, I try and get out of the way of myself and let the work be a process. When I do, the work is stronger and far more genuine.”

That she “knows from” cattle is abundantly clear from her soulful representations of these gentle beasts. Chitwood grew up with Herefords on her family farm, and has had Black Angus on her property outside Charlottesville. She’s attracted to their powerful bodies, expressions and how they look against the landscape. Her nearly life-size charcoal drawings are insightful portrayals of individual animals that capture their essential cowiness. And in Chitwood’s hands they transcend representation to become something of real artistic import.

One way she achieves this is through the use of collage. Initially, putting a piece of paper over the drawing enabled her to try different options without changing the original drawing—the paper added dimensionality and fractured the image in a way she admired and so she began leaving it there.

It’s about fragmenting things, tearing them up and moving them around, adding and taking away. Chitwood embraces the unexpected, welcoming it into her work. It adds more than substance; for Chitwood, it is where the very essence of the piece resides. And on those occasions when she uses an unadulterated sheet of paper, she makes sure it’s messy because as Chitwood says, “Things are messy.”

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