Plenty of faces to choose from
The Thomas Center Galleries' 'About Face' exhibit features 106 portraits from 37 artists
Published: Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 1:03 p.m.
Some are pensive, others pursed-lipped. One has a pug-nose, yet another has a broken nose. There are grandmothers and beat-up boxers, traditional oil-on-canvas paintings and self-portraits stitched together from fabric. But all 106 portraits in the “About Face” exhibit that opens Friday at the Thomas Center Galleries are woven together with a common thread:
What: Potraiture exhibit featuring 106 works by both emerging and established artists
When: Opening reception 6-10 p.m. Friday; exhibition hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday, through Sept. 20
Where: Thomas Center main and mezzanine galleries, 306 NE Sixth Ave.
“To me, these images break through to you — their soul meets your soul,” said Russell Etling, interim cultural affairs manager for the city of Gainesville, who is sponsoring the show.
“We wanted to do a portrait show, but not one that was wholly traditional,” Etling said of the exhibit — one of nine shows he organized to celebrate the galleries' 35th anniversary season. The “About Face” exhibit, composed of works from 37 artists and displayed in both the main gallery and the second-floor mezzanine, is the largest show the Thomas Center has ever displayed.
Anne Gilroy, the exhibit's curator and a portrait artist herself, said the show features paintings, prints, mixed media, fabric art, sculptural works and more by both established and emerging artists from around the region and the country.
Gilroy also sought out art and artists whose work has either never been seen or has not been seen for a long while.
“It includes work that ranges from pieces made by an unknown artist that were literally discovered in a junk shop to work made by Hiram Williams, who has pieces in the Museum of Modern Art,” she said.
Some of the better known local artists include folk artist Jesse Aaron, retired art professor John Ward and the late Lennie Kesl. But Gilroy made a point to pull in a number of fresh new faces, as well.
Printmaker Emmanuel Torres has six monotypes in the show.
“He's exciting, edgy,” Gilroy said. A monotype is a one-of-a-kind print created when the artist paints an image on a piece of Plexiglas, covers it with paper and applies pressure to transfer the image to the paper.
The biggest pieces in the exhibit are the 15-foot portraits by Philadelphia-based artist Patrick Grigsby. Grigsby, who is white, explores issues of race and identity in a dramatic series of mixed media portraits of his son, who is black. Grigsby first developed a hybrid of analog and digital images, and then layered on wax, embossments, rubbings, inks, drawings and punctures to create the tonal qualities of these stunning black-and-white portraits.
“These artworks are also layered with professional experience from a 20-year career in the commercial print industry,” Grigsby writes in an artist's statement. He notes that many of the technical terms used in the commercial printing process — halftones, color separations, registration, values, positives and negatives — take on a deeper meaning in his art, becoming “charged definitions with ironic parallels to contemporary life in America.”
For the exhibit, Gilroy brought in works from private collections, as well.
“A lot of (the art on display) is privately owned and doesn't come out to play very often,” she said. This includes paintings by retired art professor John Ward and works by local folk artists Jesse Aaron, Jerry Coker and Eddy Mumma.
More than anything else, Gilroy said, she looked for artwork that held “the presence of the person.”
Etling says that as the director of the Thomas Center Galleries, he has worked hard over the past three years to increase the visibility of the gallery as well as the quality of the art.
“At the same time, we're reaching deep into the community to allow it to be a venue for regional artists and students,” he said. “Many of the students who have exhibited at the Thomas Center in the past come back years later as respected artists and say, 'My first piece was here at the Thomas Center.' ”