Lauren Hawkins is so taken with working at the Chapel Hill Art Gallery, 1215 E. Franklin St., that she often drops in just to visit.
“I like being surrounded by different artists, not just photographers like myself,” Hawkins said. “To see from a different type of artist’s viewpoint is very helpful.”
Hawkins’ relationship with the gallery began two months ago due to a partnership between the art space and The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham.
Brenda Baldwin Scott, a member of the cooperative gallery, and Megan Q. Daniels, an Institute photography instructor, formed a plan that allows photography students from the institute to intern at the gallery and put on an exhibit there.
“It is the vision of the members of our gallery that we have a space where artists can not only exhibit, but also congregate and form a community, where students are encouraged, and where there are enriching classes taught,” Scott said.
“I enjoy just looking at the works of the gallery artists,” Hawkins said. “You can get so much out of looking at someone’s images.”
Now, others have the opportunity to be altered by Hawkins’ work. This Friday evening, during the 2nd Friday ArtWalk a reception with live music by Matt Daniels will celebrate Hawkins’ first solo show that opened June 1.
In the gallery’s main room, there are 20 18x24 black and white photographic images that are so powerful they cannot help but pierce the toughest hearts. In a gallery area off of this space, there are18 11x14 images in riotous color that will make the dourest of souls crack a smile.
“The show depicts two different sides of me,” Hawkins said.
The front room works each include a person with a word or phrase written on his or her skin and in a separate image below these human blackboards but on the same piece of photo paper is an image created with sticks and stones. The work was inspired by New York photographer Grace Brown’s “Project Unbreakable”. She photographs sexual assault and rape victims holding signs on which are printed what their attackers said to them or words said to the victims when they told about the crime.
The power of the words spoke to Hawkins, eventually leading her to think about things that people have said to her that hurt her feelings.
“It hurts even when I think about it now,” she said.
Hawkins’ initial efforts to recruit participants for her conceived project failed, but classmates at the Institute volunteered. Hawkins had them fill out a brief questionnaire where they shared stinging words that had been said to them.
“I chose to write these words on the body to show that they have left some kind of scar and that verbal abuse can be as harmful as physical abuse,” Hawkins said. “The second part of the collaboration is that I asked them to arrange sticks and stones to describe how they feel about that word or phrase. So it is kind of like art therapy.”
Last quarter, Hawkins presented her growing body of photographs to her class.
“I was showing the photographs and reading the stories out loud. I was crying towards the end,” Hawkins said. “It felt like I was saying the words to them and this was not how I think of these people at all,” To participate in this ongoing project, go to lhhsticksandstones.tumblr.com.
“Lauren’s decision and the conceptual capabilities that she has when she is working on a project is amazing,” Daniels said.
“My job is to poke holes in students’ work that they are supposed to fill before they graduate. It has always been difficult to poke holes in Lauren’s work. People are going to see these works and feel uncomfortable and that is great,” Daniels said.
The light side of Hawkins is about movies. Each photograph in the side room depicts a film scene, staged by Hawkins, with a clay pig playing a role.
“ET was probably the most complicated scene I have done. Remember when he is flying in the air on the bicycle?” Hawkins said. “I didn’t know how on earth I was going to recreate that sky that is so blue and that moon that is so white and bright. I painted the scene on my shower door and put a light inside the shower and then used a piece of blue cellophane over the light. I used a miniature bicycle and person and created a cart for the pig to be in. I attached it to a bar so a friend could hold it in the right spot,” Hawkins said.
The show will be up through June 30 and the gallery is open Thursday-Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Hawkins is planning a new collaboration. “I want to photograph people who have a recurring dream and recreate a scene from that dream with them in it,” Hawkins said.
She might start with gallery artist and Board president Kathy Alderman, who was one of the founding artists of Focal Point Gallery, which this February changed its name to Chapel Hill Art Gallery after a major reorganization – the intention being to draw more people into overseeing the gallery’s physical space and its mission.
Despite a bit of rough going before the gallery re-organized as an artist-run collective, Alderman stuck with the endeavor. She strongly believed in the gallery’s fundamental importance, for herself and the community, and wanted to honor her friend Debbie Deter’s encouragement when she almost gave up on her creative endeavors.
“I only started painting in 2005, but my family wanted me back in my ‘momma box.’ My close friend Debbie Deter said to me, “You are allowed to have a life outside of your family.”
Members of the collective hope that people will flock to Hawkins’ exhibit to witness the emergence of this local talent and to discover, as Hawkins has done, the pleasures of just dropping in with no agenda at all.
Deborah Meyer writes monthly about the arts in Orange and Durham counties. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org