Taking a critical eye to 2012's art exhibits


By Justin Lacy
StarNews Correspondent
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Despite occasional complaints about an overabundance of beach themes, the Port City offers up a pretty wide variety of art. I didn't get to see anything close to all of the exhibitions of 2012, so, the only fair way I can come up with to write a year in review is to review my year – my experience with visual arts in Wilmington in 2012.

This year saw galleries popping-up, closing, opening and moving; the establishment of a new arts council; and the passing of renowned Pender County artist Ivey Hayes. For me, it was a year of witnessing beautiful collaborations, learning about Wilmington's visual arts past and writing about interesting mediums that were new to me, from Colleen Ringrose's encaustic works to Niki Hildebrand's glass sculptures.

The wild world of printing was perhaps the most foreign medium I encountered. I got to visit Jennifer Page's Cape Fear Press in Carolina Beach in February to check out a workshop of national artists learning photogravure printing. That was followed up with the "Big Print Block Party" in May, when Page and a group of artists commandeered Cape Fear Boulevard to press giant woodblock prints with a steamroller. In June, The four-by-six-and-a-half-foot black-and-white prints were displayed in Cape Fear Community College's brand new Hanover Gallery. One of the nicest galleries in town, the Hanover Gallery opened in March in an unusual location: below a campus parking deck.

In September, Leslie Pearson filled Hanover Gallery's long walls with "Speak, Memory," an exhibition of encaustic paintings and installations made from wire and hog gut. 

You read that right: hog gut.

Pearson stretched the beige, translucent rubbery membrane over wire structures resembling fossilized coral or jellyfish, with openings in the tissue. Pearson said that when she makes the openings, she thinks of body orifices, namely eyes, ears and mouths, and the ways we communicate through seeing, hearing and speaking.


In September, Diane Hause decided to cut out the middle man – instead of painting on materials made from trees, she invited local artists to her 2TEN HAUSTUDIO in Ivanhoe to paint on trees. Twenty-five artists participated in "Living Totems," each transferring designs right onto the bark of the pine trees outside Hause's studio, using water-based paint that wouldn't harm the trees.

In January, WHQR put on "Out of the Pocket," probably Wilmington's first exhibition exclusive to photographs taken on iPhones. Dorian Hill, Lynn Casper and Morgan Kenney filled the MC Erny Gallery with their visually stunning iPhoneography, further complicating the ideals of what classifies as art.

In February, Harry Taylor took the opposite approach, using the antiquated process of tintype photography for his 621N4TH exhibition, "Rio Jordan." Taylor used century-old equipment and photosensitive emulsion – a technique that dates back to the late 19th century – to explore the past and present of the Cape Fear River. The images he collected were timeless.

Harry Taylor wasn't the only artist exploring the Port City's past this year. Acme Art Studios hosted many notable exhibitions in 2012, including "Hot and Bothered … If These Boards Could Talk," Sandra Ihly's solo exhibition of ironing board assemblages. But in May, the studio took a step back to look at its own history with "Home," the 20-year anniversary show. Since 1991, 131 artists have worked with just about every medium out there in the old carpet factory at 711 N. Fifth Ave. Co-owners Dick Roberts and Pam Toll reminisced about the studio's informal beginnings, when they would gather with other young artists in the original Caffe Phoenix – the art-friendly eatery that closed this year.

The Cameron Art Museum also returned to its roots this year and celebrated 50 years of art and art education in the Port City by curating "From Gatehouse to Winehouse: Inside the Artist's Workplace," an intricate multimedia exhibition transporting viewers into the homes and work spaces of three of Wilmington's most prominent artists: Claude Howell (1915-1997), Minnie Evans (1892-1987) and Elisabeth Chant (1865-1947). They were artists I'd only heard of, but after seeing where they worked, slept and talked art, I gained a better grasp on local history, and saw the beginnings of an art community with a diverse yield to offer.