Friday, May 27, 2022

CFCC Faculty Art Exhibit goes virtual at Wilma Daniels Gallery

Amber Watts’ “Something Suggestive of Passage of Time” is a handmade journal she filled with illustrations detailing her travels to Prague, now on display as part of the Annual Fall Faculty Show from Wilma Daniels Gallery. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of Wilma Daniels Gallery)

WILMINGTON — Curating an art exhibit virtually can be quite tedious compared to hanging one in a real gallery, according to local artist and art teacher Abby Spangel Perry. Perry teaches a gallery assistantship course, and two-dimensional art in painting drawing and design at Cape Fear Community College. She coordinated its Annual CFCC Faculty Show, available now online since Wilma Daniels Gallery in Hanover Parking Deck remains closed due to Covid-19. 

The physicality of fitting the gallery walls with a certain flow and discovering how pieces hang together was a piece of the puzzle Perry missed solving. Part of the joy, she said, is finding harmony and balance in the room.

“I like to lay out the room by leaning art against the walls and moving things around before settling into hanging it, [and] seeing what pieces ‘speak to’ one another,” she explained. “With a virtual space, there is a degree of this, but the work is submitted digitally and entered into a data system.”

It’s Perry’s second time planning an online exhibit — the first being the student show she curated last spring. CFCC uses the software program Kunstmatrix, which allows onlookers to navigate a virtual room and zoom into each work featured on the white walls. 

Though it lacks authenticity of seeing the art in person, there are upswings to the virtual exhibit. Faculty ably can show more art than normal since space is “endless.”

“Some artists decided to show pieces they would not have been able to in the physical gallery, due to limitations on space or issues with installation of the work,” Perry said.

Thirteen CFCC art department faculty (Ben Billingsley, Geoff Calabrese, Rick Conn, Jessica Gaffney, Kirsten Koromilas, Jennifer Mace, Victoria Paige, Abby Spangel Perry, Deborah Quinn, Sharon Wozniak Spencer, Kirah Van Sickle, Amber Watts, and Travis Weller) are displaying more than a dozen works, representing a multitude of media. Illustration, painting, ceramics and photography showcase the style of each teacher, most of whom created their art over the course of the last year. 

“The art is a direct reflection of what is offered through the school’s art program,” Perry added. 

Perry has two pieces on display, “Consumer Rats: Their Children Grew Fat & Complacent” and “Rebellion: With No Forest to Call Home, They Had Nothing Left to Lose.” Each is part of a larger series she created about humanity’s current state of consumer excess.

“‘Consumer Rats’ shows the passive, unquestioning consumption of culture by a youthful rat,” Perry said. “He is transfixed by an unseen TV and complacently consuming junk food.” 

“Rebellion” focuses on two rabbits experiencing different states of being: One is sick and wearing a gas mask, as the other looks on angrily, while handling a bullhorn and protest sign that showcases a plague of environmental issues.

Abby Spangel Perry’s two works, “Consumer Rats” and “Rebellion,” are part of a larger series tackling greed and consumerism that she created a few years ago. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of Wilma Daniels Gallery)

Though neither was inspired from the pause of Covid-19, they were taken from national and international conversations that inform daily headlines: wildfires, hurricanes, buying-power, money. 

“I personally decided to show a series of pieces that spoke to the current state of affairs in our country in some ways,” Perry said. “The body of work was an allegory about corporate rats and helpless bunnies who were robbed of their land and made sick. In the end, the bunnies rebelled.”

A new instructor teaching art appreciation at CFCC, Amber Watts created “Something Suggestive of Passage of Time” — a coptic-stitch book originally created by an old studio mate, Kate Sparanza. The journal was gifted to Watts upon her travels abroad to the capital of the Czech Republic.

“The book is mixed-media, containing elements of drawing and collage,” Watts explained. “Pages are coated with a thin layer of paraffin wax to prevent them from sticking. I worked on the book every day, starting before my trip overseas, every night while in Prague, and completing it upon my return to the U.S.”

She journaled preconceived notions of how she expected the trip to go, along with how it actually ended up: expanding her cultural lens. Watts marked the impact of seeing Pinkas Synagogue (a memorial for 80,000 Jewish victims), Bones Church (human bones make up elements in the church) and Baroque buildings.

“My time in Europe was the first moment I felt a real awareness of what it is to be American,” she noted. “It was sublime to be ‘the other’ and to be judged based on stereotypes of my country, rather than my unique character traits.”

She centered the book on embracing differentialities yet focusing on similarities of humanity. 

“We all love and have standards of culturally acceptable behaviors,” Watts said. “We all eat, and go about our days, doing everything we need to do to keep going in this life for as long as possible. That’s not to say that things are fair because they’re not, but I do think humanity has common goals, and that’s a beautiful connection we share.”

Passing on that inspiration to students is only one reason Watts teaches art—a passion she said she knew she wanted to fulfill as an elementary school student. “My mom recently found a kindergarten drawing where I wrote ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist,’” she noted.  “It enriches my life. In order to be a successful instructor, I’m always learning . . . Mostly, my students’ questions about art and life encourage me to question as well, keeping things fresh semester after semester.”

“I often tell my students this little nugget because it was told to me by my favorite painting professor, Paul Hartley: ‘Don’t worry about trends and what other people are making. Make art that feels right for you and don’t stop making it,’” Perry added.

Wilma Daniels Gallery will feature various outreach opportunities as part of the show, including faculty interviews. The recorded talks will be released on social media and the gallery’s website, so folks can learn more about works in the exhibit. The exhibit can be viewed at https://wilmadanielsgallery.com.

Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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