Monday, June 27, 2016

Bella Pollen Examines the Lure of Escape and the Pull of Home in her Memoir

While at VCCA this spring, Bella Pollen was finishing up a memoir, which began taking shape during her first VCCA residency in 2012. At the time, she was weighing whether to embark on a new fiction idea or focus on short personal essays. She had never tried the latter and was dubious, but one of the other Fellows encouraged her to try the essays. “I told him I had a lousy memory and he said, ‘Hey, you don't have to worry about the color of the napkins.’” The phrase was freeing, and after that exchange, she was on her way, writing short essays that have now become a memoir of stories linked both chronologically and thematically. “They loosely explore the tension between the lure of escape in all its forms and the pull of home with everything that means,” she says. “The book is divided into five different geographical sections, which incorporate graphic memoir, so the entire project is something of a hybrid and a first for me in terms of mixing mediums and collaborating with an artist.”  

Bella acknowledges with gratitude that the project that has taken up the last few years of her life was initially conceived of at VCCA. “Without VCCA this book would not exist,” she says. “VCCA has also paved the way for many more collaborations in various forms. Since that first visit, I have worked closely with half a dozen Fellows, on my own project and theirs. VCCA simply could not mean more to me in terms of inspiration, creative support and the opportunity to work with other artists.”  

Attending The Commission at Pharsalia afforded Bella, and the other Fellows in attendance, the opportunity to meet those in the community who financially support VCCA and so give its Fellows such vital, creative freedom. Bella’s residency consisted of “the usual business of making new friends, seeing new art, listening to new compositions, finding new poems as well as writing and getting a huge tranche of work done.”

In addition to Amherst, Bella has been in residence at the Moulin à Nef. “Auvillar is a French town which, takes an enormous interest in the fellows who come.”  She’s also spent time at the “residency of cakes and scones” as some of the Fellows have dubbed it a.k.a. the Tyrone Guthrie in Ireland. She’s also created or been invited to mini private residencies with various writers and artists, many of whom she originally met at VCCA.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Barbara Bernstein's Public Art Project: Connections Installed at Seven Stations in VA Transit System

                                                                                          Maquette for Station E

VCCA Resident Artist Barbara Bernstein has been hard at work completing a public art project commissioned by the Arlington Public Art Fund and the Virginia Transit System. Barbara won the commission in 2011 in an international competition. She then began her designs for the project, providing a unifying visual motif for the double curved roofs, windscreens and pavement of seven new stations connecting Crystal City and Potomac Yard in the Washington D.C. greater metro area.

According to Barbara, “ Connections” is a design of interconnected lines that provides a visual metaphor for the purpose and function of the Transitway itself: bringing together multiple peoples, traveling from different directions within a unified system, in order to make connections. Each line of the design is linked to another; each shape is related to the lines. The intricate design is also a unified whole, just like the intersecting web of the lives people live on a daily basis.

After five years, unfortunate budget cuts and unexpected delays, the final project has Barbara’s designs for windscreens for each of the seven stations, ranging in size from 20 feet to 200 feet in width and 8 feet to15 feet in height. “I have created seven iterations of the design. The lines of the patterns always connect, even when mirrored or placed back to back. This was not planned on my part and was a gratifying yet unexpected discovery while I was working. Each station also has a specific predominant color, becoming a distinct landmark while providing identification other than text. This visual recognition also assists those who cannot read English.

Each of the colors within each design has a different degree of translucency printed on the art film. These variations add a sense of movement to the overall pattern. The largest shapes are most sheer, while smaller shapes have deeper, nearly opaque hues. The effect is similar to lenses that change with the time of day and level of sunlight.”

Barbara wanted her work to be seen and appreciated not just by the users of the transit system, but by passersby and those using other forms of transportation as well. Her work is an invitation to all who see it as an on-going discovery, offering connections at every juncture. 

Barbara’s project will be in the International Public Art Review magazine in late fall 2016/early 2017 and will be considered for a national public art prize in 2018.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Aaron McIntosh's Strange Baby Blankets

A self-described “nerdy Appalachian queer guy” visual artist Aaron McIntosh comes from a long line of quilters. Aaron is justifiably proud of this family legacy, which he has appropriated and used in a decidedly contemporary way.

“My family didn’t really go to art museums or anything like that so in a lot of ways this was the creative outlet I saw most as a child.” In his work Aaron explores the intersections of material culture, family tradition, identity-shaping, sexuality and desire in a range of works including quilts, collage, drawing, domestic textiles, furniture and sculpture.

Growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee, Aaron picked up quilting, “almost like osmosis.” “Quilting resonates with me because of my family connection,” he says. “I think of my practice as being always grounded in quilt making, so whether it’s unit based piecework, or accumulation of materials, or even some of the things that surround quilting, like hoarding materials—I grew up around all of that. It’s important to me to both pay homage to the people who came before and didn’t have the luxury or privilege to study art, and also bring their traditions into the 21st century.”

Aaron is interested in how desire gets mediated through things and what it is to learn about one’s desire, sexuality and romantic inclinations through the printed word and visuals. He takes these and translates them into his quilt and drawing studies. “Sometimes it’s very present, something lifted directly from those sources and then turned into a quilt or the figure is maybe removed and so you’re left with a background, or a silhouette, or a negative space that indicates the figure. I’m interested in that movement from physical, corporeal desire and also material desire. There’s always a reverence for the materiality of the thing and patterns.”

Reinterpreted in brightly hued calico, the overtness of the figures’ eroticism isn’t all that evident, but it hovers over the work. Aaron likens these quilts to “strange baby blankets”. For him they play the role of transitional object as described by psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott who posited that young children use objects (teddy bears, blankies) to separate the "me" from the "not-me". “I’m interested in making transitional objects that aren’t rooted in childhood, but rooted in adult sexuality and eroticism,” he says. “In my own life, this means transitioning out of certain ways of being romantically, sexually, into new ways of being. I’m taking what those transitional objects represent together with some hybrid of the child’s blankie into this new space of sexual exploration.”

There’s an aspect of comfort that’s intrinsic to transitional objects. In pairing this traditional, familial technique with gay erotica, Aaron has found a way of uniting these two essential sides of his character; establishing a strong bond between them is the very definition of comfort.

Aaron hangs the quilts draped on a hook on the wall like rags, as opposed to stretched out. “You’re going to be denied the image,” he says. But the viewer will be invited to take them off the wall and hold them, to have a physical experience with them and be able to spread them out so they can see them.

In addition to fabric, Aaron works with printed materials and erotica, piecing them together and doing drawings over them. He’s done large room sized installations referencing the newspaper-covered walls of his grandmother’s house as well as small-scale drawings. Pieced together and featuring drawn stitches his drawings are symbolic quilts. “They provide a new way of thinking about transitional objects that is very personal to me.”

Aaron holds a BFA from the Appalachian Center for Craft and a MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has been Assistant Professor in the Fiber Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). He has joined the faculty at VCU Arts and will begin teaching there in the fall.

Aaron's residency was funded by the MICA Fellowship supported by the LEAW Family Foundation.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Joy Peterson Heyrman is New VCCA Executive Director

William E. Hunt, Jr. President of the Board of Directors of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), one of the leading artists communities in the world, which has hosted over 5,500 writers, visual artists and composers during the creation phase of their work, has announced the appointment of Joy Peterson Heyrman, Ph.D. as Executive Director. She will begin September 6, 2016.

“Dr. Heyrman’s personal and professional skills, passion for the arts and commitment to our mission make her the ideal candidate to lead VCCA into the future,” said Mr. Hunt. “Her experience working closely with boards, volunteers, arts advocates, and donors made her the VCCA Board’s unanimous choice after a competitive national search.”

Photo: Courtesy the Walters Art Museum
Dr. Heyrman was most recently Deputy Director for Museum Advancement at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where she worked for 23 years. On projects as varied as audience development initiatives, international exhibitions, and three ambitious capital campaigns which raised over $74 million, she worked with varied constituencies to build a culture of philanthropy and teamwork. A specialist in 19th century American Art, she also organized New Eyes on America: The Genius of Richard Caton Woodville exhibited at the Walters and the Mint Museum (Charlotte, NC) in 2013.

Dr. Heyrman holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Art History and Archeology from the University of Maryland, as well as a B.A. in English from Amherst College (Amherst, MA). She speaks French and German, a great asset, given VCCA’s international partnerships and established residency program in Auvillar, France.

“I am thrilled to come to VCCA, which plays such a vital role as a forum for artists,” said Dr. Heyrman. “It is an honor to take my place in this pastoral place of retreat for intensive individual creativity in Amherst and in Auvillar as well as in VCCA’s global network of artist Fellows and people who care about what they have to say. I look forward to working with a great staff and committed Board and Fellows to build on the strong foundation already in place at VCCA.”