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"Long-held memories and the passage of days"

The Averitt Center showcases natural wonder in its latest art exhibit


September 24, 2014

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    Pairing artists into a single show is often a tall order. Finding conceptual and formal similarities between different art forms so that a conversation ensues, without conflict, is a rare feat. But the Averitt Center for the Arts' new show delivers on all counts. In paintings and pine needle sculptures, Lawrence B. Smith and Stephanie Tames present us with poetic representations of nature as subject and medium.
    Smith applies thin layers of water-based media to paper, panels or canvas,
building rich layers of luminous color depicting the natural environment. Mountains, water, trees and, more recently, the American West make up his subjects, meant to be slowly contemplated and consumed.
    A particular favorite, perhaps for its unfamiliar view of the western painted desert, is View Beyond North Window. Smith captures the radiant colors of sand and stone against a robin's-egg blue sky that feels far more expansive than the modest scale would suggest.
    This work requires as much patient contemplation from the viewer as it did from the artist. Smith states, "[E]very season has its special moments; you just need to stop and look." The detail throughout his collection is stunning, suggesting the rustle of leaves and gurgling of a brook; for those who appreciate fine craft, his work will be quite satisfying.
    In contrast to Smith’s representational painting we are offered the twisting, coiling basket sculptures of Stephanie Tames. A change in geography from the mountains to our coastal plains introduced this traditional basket weaver to the long leaf pine needle and its aesthetic possibilities.
    A process developed by the indigenous people of the coastal plain region, the coiling of fibers into utilitarian vessels is a venerable craft. Tames removes the utilitarian aspect, leaving only the relationship of artist to process and allowing abstract form to take over without losing the tether to a historical practice. Far from holding the eggs and potatoes of her previous works, these new forms contain the intangible elements of time and experience and suggest we ponder the winding, intertwined nature of life. In particular, a work named Forever twists into itself in an infinite loop of waxed threads, pine needles and recycled fabric, like a snake eating its own tail. Of her art, Tames states that weaving is “a metaphor for how we shape and are shaped by the different threads of our lives, and our natural surroundings.”
    What really bonds these two artists is the aspect of time, in both theme and process. One cannot help but imagine the solitary acts of the artists in their studios, one slowly inserting needles into a coil, the other focused on his panel, applying tiny dots of olive green to an overhanging tree. In each case we are treated to the product of hundreds of hours of focused work that will transport you to a distant vista, pondering long-held memories and the passage of days.

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