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Volume 24, Number 4 — April 2017

'From These Hills' Showcases Contemporary Appalachian Art

Robyn Raines
Robyn Raines

View a Slide Show, Read a Review

By ROBYN RAINES | December 14, 2009

ABINGDON, VA — "From These Hills: Contemporary Art in the Southern Appalachian Highlands," on display through Feb. 14, 2010, at the William King Museum (WKM), is the guest-curated biennial exhibition of new works by regional artists.

This year's show features 80 works from 36 artists living in Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Southern West Virginia. The show was curated by Ray Kass, a painter and writer who lives in New York City and Blacksburg, Va., where he is Professor Emeritus of Art at Virginia Tech.

The goals of "From These Hills" are to celebrate the diversity of regional artistic talent and to provide them a vehicle for making connections outside the region to promote their own professional growth. After visiting the new biennial, I believe the goal of celebrating regional talent rings true!

If you are familiar with our regional artists, the diversity is not a surprise, but the changing of the guard was somewhat surprising, with only a couple of the 2007 artists reappearing. Are most of these folks new to the region? Have most of the former participants left the region? Or is it the luck of the curatorial draw?

Whatever the case may be, this exhibition brings pride for our regional artists and their assorted talents, hopefully generating more awareness and appreciation for both.

In his guest curator's statement, Kass writes, "The sculptural works included in this exhibition are excellent examples of the communicative partnership of the artist and the viewer that I think is essential to the experience of art."

Upon entering the exhibition, the environment is quite sculptural. The combination of works selected by Kass and the gallery placement chosen by Adam Justice, former Chief Curator at WKM, comes very close to being an installation work of art in itself.

This overall sculptural feel is grounded in Denise Stewart-Sanabria's four mixed-media pieces. Her charcoal drawings on plywood cut-outs of human figures in street clothes provide a presence of "others" viewing and contemplating the works alongside you, the actual viewer. The skill of her renderings gives them such a realistic presence that the viewer also feels a part of the "installation."

Alongside these figures are two small installations created by Travis Graves, which again force the viewer into the work's space. Graves' work brings up social issues that juxtapose human needs/wants and nature. His aesthetically pleasing work captures the viewer, then the content and meaning leave the viewer in thought. Graves is successful in creating strong dialogue without using text or sound. As the debate between human needs/wants versus environmental concerns continues to thicken, it will be interesting to see how Graves' work develops, what role he will play as a regional artist, and who his audience will become.

Robert Sulkin's prints of "strange mechanical" wonders impressed Kass. The film-like quality adds to the mystery and wonder of these pieces.

Val Lyle's painting, "Aileen's Window," stands out amidst tough competition. The scale of Lyle's painting on paper, 7.5 x 5 feet, makes the imagery of the painting even more powerful. It is a brave composition, with a predominant, even black tone. Lyle's understanding and execution of light streaming through what appears to be wooden barn slats is intriguing. Furthermore, in thinking about the realm of what this exhibition is — a focus on regional artists — this painting is immediately reminiscent of the area, but not the typical rendition of those barns so often photographed or painted by local artists. Lyle's perspective of looking — from the inside out — not only varies from the norm, but also has unusual and refreshing content. "Aileen's Window" brings to mind the studies showing Appalachia as an aging population and shifts the focus, which is often on the past and looking back, to one that is looking out and ahead.

— To view a slide show of artworks in the exhibit, CLICK HERE.

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About the Reviewer


Robyn Raines is Director of the Appalachian Arts Center in Richlands and an adjunct instructor in the Humanities Division at Southwest Virginia Community College. A native of Russell County, Va., Raines has a BFA in textile design and a minor in two-dimensional fine art from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pa. She also completed the Core Fellowship Program at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, N.C. Raines serves on "Round the Mountain's Board of Directors and William King Museum's Artistic Direction Committee. A mixed-media installation and book artist, she has a studio in Cedar Bluff, Va.

A! ExtraTopics: Art, Exhibits