Review: “Herald 3” at the Richmond Public Library

Take a final chance to catch the mature work of six local artists. by Edwin Slipek

Do artists create for themselves or the audiences who experience the work?

This is the broad, age-old question that curator David White, himself a Richmond-based mixed media veteran, poses in “Herald 3,” the handsome and rewarding biennial exhibition now at the Richmond Public Library downtown featuring work by six talents at the top of their game.

Actually, White offers a clear answer: While this determined and highly focused lot — three painters, two photographers and a cinematographer — present highly articulated and personal work, they expect viewers to give back as good as they get. There’s no spoon-feeding here in the form of easily recognizable imagery, so in most cases the viewer must collaborate, focusing his or her personal lens to complete the picture or offer an interpretation.

The marbleized, mausoleumlike, art deco Dooley atrium of library, one of three contiguous spaces in which “Herald” is installed, has seldom looked more activated than it does currently with 13 large works by painters Jim Black and Elaine Rogers who work in quite different ways. There is also an intoxicating video piece by Patrick Gregory in the gallery.

Black is an unabashed abstract expressionist who favors earth tones and is itching to transport his viewers past the apparent flat surfaces of expertly-applied oil and wax on canvas. He does this by suggesting an overall grid organization, but stopping short of a full checkerboard pattern. He offers a single or even a handful of squares or windows that serve as openings to a realm beyond the painting’s surface. These openings add tremendous depth to the masterfully drawn works. The windows also make the canvases inviting — hospitable even — despite their abstraction.

If Black’s works are somewhat brooding, Elaine Rogers’ six oil and wax paintings in soft pastel hues on the opposite side of the room are cheerful. While her “Patterns behind Creation” is obviously a landscape, geography is not the goal here. Familiar lines of a low mountain range, cloud formations and fields are just a point of departure to draw and differentiate those lines with color. “Flames” evokes a volcano but embers and lava flow haven’t yet worked their way down to a wheat field below. Rogers understands the shifting tension that exists between the power of nature and its soft beauty— often contiguous.

In the Gellman Room, a third painter, Cynthia Erdahl, is showing nine medium-sized canvases in either oil or acrylic. She is a painter’s painter with assured and broad brush strokes and no fear of color. “Trying” is an exhilarating painting with jewellike shades of blue, red and yellow with greens. And while the coloring is as vivid as a stained glass window, the piece pays homage to the fresh and energizing abstract painting of the 1950s and 1960s. And as for giving the viewer an opportunity to fill some gaps, “Rumblings” suggests human figures, five of them anchored by a lone presence rendered in black.

Also in the Gellman Room are works by John Grant, a photographer of obvious depth. His 11 works, whose imagery and textures manage to be subtle and obvious at the same time, could read as paintings. The majority of the archival pigment prints are black-and-white images of ice cubes writ large. Grant’s ability to capture the infinite sparkle of the crystals is a wonder to see and proof of this artist’s control of his medium (and ability to print on clear film). Blowing up familiar objects is not new, but Grant takes things to another dimension. In two other photographs he introduces subtle coloring. In the well-orchestrated image “Window” the background appears to be a faded plaid. In front of this are japonica buds and buttons that appear as orbs or some other extraterrestrial objects. It is a sublime work.

Entering and leaving “Herald 3” gallery goers move through a passageway hung with the work of photojournalist Robert Burgess. He presents nine works that reflect a life of travel— from Toulouse, France, to Sonoma, California. But what do say, Rome, Italy, or Ocean City, Maryland, have in common? Burgess is intrigued by built environments and exterior walls in a state of decay. Like Jim Black’s abstract expressionist paintings, these colorful works reveal the possibility of raw beauty in textures, patterns and bold colors.

Finally, for the first time in a Herald biennial, there is a video work, Patrick Gregory’s “Patterns Behind Creation.” As if shot through gauze, it is a poetic look at the seasons of the year — as well as life, youth, marriage and death. He shares the aesthetic of filmmaker Terrence Malick, without the pedantries.

The run of “Herald 3” coincided with the bicycle races when the library was closed for a full week. But this show should not be missed. S

“Herald 3” runs through Nov. 4 at the main Richmond Public Library but will hold a special closing reception for the artists on Wednesday, Nov. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. Nationally recognized string musician Mark Campbell will perform. Free and open to the public.

60% of WI disapproves of Walker’s job performance in WPR/St. Norbert poll

This comes from a poll with a small sample: 603. Notables: 57 percent of those polled say that Wisconsin is headed in the wrong direction. Russ Feingold leads against Ron Johnson.  51 percent to 40 percent. 60 percent of Wisconsinites disapprove of the way Scott Walker is doing his job. In fact, 40% of Wisconsinites more »

Parents of Slain Roanoke Reporter Attend State Senate Candidate Forum

Gun control among issues discussed in 10th District campaign. by Leah Small

The parents of slain Roanoke journalist Alison Parker have quit their jobs to travel across Virginia to support state senate candidates in favor of gun control.

Barbara and Andy Parker heard what candidates had to say about guns last night during a 10th Senate District forum at Virginia Commonwealth University. The event was more than three hours away from their home in Collinsville.

Barbara enthusiastically passed out pins that read “Whatever it takes” in black letters. The words were emblazoned on a television color test bar background — a nod to her daughter’s job as a reporter at WDBJ-TV 7. Andy took this message to the national level during a September rally on Capitol Hill, when he urged legislators to pass any laws necessary to curb gun violence.

After the event, the couple spoke with people about a need for tougher gun regulations. Barbara says that they are in favor of candidates who offer “common sense solutions” such as universal background checks.

“We can’t understand why people have such a problem with [universal background checks]. You have to have a license to drive a car, you have to have it registered,” she says. “Why do they have such a problem having something that can kill you registered?”

She calls the idea of being permitted to carry a gun on campus “horrifying.”

Democratic candidate Dan Gecker stood out to the couple as someone who could tighten restrictions on gun ownership. Gecker advocated for background checks and prohibiting those convicted for domestic abuse and with protective orders from owning guns. He said that teachers and pediatricians need to have better training to recognize signs of emotional instability in children, which may lead to gun violence.

Barbara was wary of Republican candidate Glen Sturtevant because of his grade A rating from the National Rifle Association. She said that he danced around an audience question concerning proposed solutions for gun violence.

Sturtevant mentioned that his brother was a student at Virginia Tech and his father worked at the Washington Navy Yard during the shootings at both places.

“My heart really breaks for the families impacted by these tragedies,” he said, “which is why I will always fight for the funding and support that law enforcement and public safety need to enforce our state and federal gun laws in Virginia.”

Sturtevant also said he was in support of increased mental health services to curb gun violence.

Independent candidate Marleen Durfee said that she supports the Second Amendment but is “in support of reasonable gun measures to be sure that we are safe in society.”

“We need to understand what is happening on campuses today,” she said.

Libertarian candidate Carl Loser said that he was pro concealed carry on campus. Loser stated that students who were former military could “handle situations like [potential gun violence] on campus effectively.”

Some other topics at the VCU and Virginia 21 sponsored forum included transportation, health care, college tuition and campus sexual assault. College tuition dominated the night for the mostly millennial audience.

McDurfee said that she was in favor of two to three years of free community college for students with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher. Gecker said that there needed to be a stable funding source or higher education and that legislators should make it a higher priority. Sturtevant said that tuition increases should be limited or eliminated if possible during a student’s four-year term in college. Loser said that he was in favor of more job training in the trades but not of increasing state incentives for college students.

The 10th Senate District covers all of Powhatan and parts of Richmond and Chesterfield County. The seat is held by long-time incumbent Republican John Watkins. The candidate who wins the November contest is likely to determine which party runs the state Senate, which is Republican controlled.

Tunstall Bagley Willis, 34: Program Coordinator of Movin’ Mania at Bon Secours Richmond Health System

Children are everything to Tunstall Bagley Willis. If she hasn’t been busy with the Children’s Museum of Richmond, she’s been busy with setting up a book bank. Or organizing a Twilight Carniball to raise money for lower-income children go to the museum at no charge. Or she’s helping raise $1 million for the American Heart Association as auction chair of the Richmond Heart Ball.

Professionally, she’s coordinator of Bon Secours’ Movin’ Mania, a program that convinces children to stay active while having fun so they can maintain healthy body weight, a job she’s held for two years.

The Richmond native attended Collegiate School and Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a degree in criminal justice. “I never worked at it, although I’d love to,” she says.

As a stay-at-home mom with her two children, Parker, 6, and Anne McKinley, 5, she merged child rearing with volunteerism. Her list includes serving on various boards, including Boaz & Ruth, a Highland Park group that helps people who need a second chance back at a normal life. She’s been on board of the Junior League of Richmond, the World Pediatric Project Junior Board, the Hayes Foundation board, Connor’s Heroes, Stop Child Abuse Now and the Children’s Home Society, among others.

When not working or volunteering, Willis says she enjoys spending time with her family and escorting her children to “festivals, concerts and events in the city.”

“Tunstall thrives on leadership,” says Jim Dunn, vice president of advocacy and community affairs at Bon Secours. “She’s an energetic volunteer and has the ability to see the big picture, get results and meet goals.”

How AP and the WI press does damage control for Governor Drunken Sailor

Yet again I get the impression that Associated Press does whatever it can to protect and/or repair Scott Walker’s image.   Compare the headlines and stories on Walker’s recent FEC filing: From Washington Post (author – Jenna Johnson): How Scott Walker spent $90,000 a day to lose an election   From U.S. News and World Report more »

Everybody didn’t have access to the Democratic Party debate

The editor of Buzzflash at Truthout recently wrote that, “By offering the debates on television only to paid subscribers of television packages that included CNN and Fox News, the most important political interaction between candidates for president of the United States was, essentially, privatized.” If you’re living with a net-enabled digital device seemingly glued to your more »

Interplanetary Grooves: The Clues to Sun Ra Arkestra’s Otherworldly Musical Power

by Peter McElhinney

Sun Ra was born on Saturn. Or at least that was his unshakable claim over his long and extraordinary career as a keyboardist, bandleader, poet and cosmic philosopher. In the mid-1950s until his death in 1993, he formed the Arkestra, a kaleidoscopic big band encompassing both the traditional and the avant-garde. Its idiosyncratic mythos and flamboyant Afro-futurist apparel inspired bands as varied as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Parliament-Funkadelic.

Sun Ra died in 1993, but the world-touring Arkestra lives on with remarkable consistency. Unlike ghost bands, or ensembles that continue performing, often with shifting personnel after their leader’s death, the Arkestra members have remarkable longevity. The group performing at the Folk Festival is led by 60-year member, 30-year leader and 91-year-old dynamo Marshall Allen.

Saxophonist and flutist Danny Ray Thompson was introduced into Sun Ra’s orbit in 1967 by Allen, after one of John Coltrane’s last concerts.

“I was scared to go over,” Thompson says. “He had a different vibe than I had ever seen before. But then everyone was smiling, and it all seemed just right.”

He went to the next Arkestra performance and was captivated. “There were three drummers on the stage, three bassists, Sun Ra on the piano and the rest of the band on the floor,” he says. “They want on stage at 9 p.m. and were still playing at 2 a.m. without a break. I never seen nothing like that. I was hooked then.”

But it took a while to find his place in the band. “He told me alto players were a dime a dozen,” Thompson recalls of Sun Ra. “But I was coming every day and taking lessons from Allen.” He also became the band’s driver, took up the bassoon, and then the baritone sax. Little by little, he earned his way into the arrangements. “Sun Ra would write music for you the way a tailor would make a suit,” he says. “We might have 57 arrangements on just one song, depending on who was there to play it.”

“He was so far ahead of his time,” Thompson says. “He knew all styles of music from the past to the future. He knew how to play what the people needed to hear. And what he played was always swinging, even the outer-space stuff. I have been so fortunate to be around this music. It is just good for the health.”

The band traveled the world, including trips to Tuva, the homeland of the throat singers who’ve been popular in past festivals. Its first trip there required a long flight from Moscow to a provincial airport on a plane whose air conditioning came from a cracked window. It took 22 hours across mountainous roads to reach the remote capital of Kyzyl, in the exact center of Asia. They were greeted by a band playing Russian military marches, a big bonfire, and sleeping accommodations in a yurt, a round, felt-covered tent. “The people were very poor,” Thompson says. “But they were warm and wonderful.”

Touring with the Arkestra was a journey of mind, body and spirit. At the end of its first European tour in 1971, Sun Ra detoured the band to Egypt. The Egyptian minister of culture got the members a rare tour inside the Great Pyramid at Giza.

“There were lights, so you could sort of see. We had to climb up inside about 150 feet, and then crawl on hands and knees into the kings chamber,” Thompson recalls. “Sun Ra said that the name ‘Ra’ hadn’t been in this space for thousands of years. We chanted it nine times and suddenly all the lights went out. It was absolutely dark. We had to go back down backwards. I thought we were going to leave but the guide said, ‘Oh no, you must see the queen’s chamber.’ We chanted Ra in there nine times again, and all the lights came back on.”

When they returned to their hotel and told the story to their bandmates, re-enacting the chant, the electricity went off again. Thompson says that the power failed a third time when he told the story during an interview.

Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914. In an era of institutional racism, he claimed to be an extraterrestrial of “the angel race.” He combined his nickname “Sonny” with the Egyptian sun god Ra. His work intertwined the history of music, from J.S. Bach and Sergei Rachmaninoff to electronic-driven free jazz with a classical and science fiction mythos to create one of the most eclectic artistic personas of the 20th century.

But asked if behind the scenes, Sun Ra was something other than the mystical being he was in performance, Thompson responds with surprised immediacy: “Sun Ra was from Saturn. That wasn’t no joke.”

Sun Ra Arkestra performs on Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 at the Community Foundation Stage. and on Sunday from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Community Foundation Stage.