Ludington: ‘Be inspired’ lives up to billing

October 22, 2013 

Townsend Ludington

“Be Inspired” reads the front page of the new brochure for the FRANK Gallery, the nonprofit arts collective at 109 E. Franklin St. Now in its fourth year, it continues to offer exhibitions of the highest quality which display the work of artists from Chapel Hill and the surrounding region.

The newly opened exhibition at FRANK, “A New Tradition: Mark Hewitt, Daniel Johnson, Alex Matisse, Joseph Sand, Matt Jones,” is particularly inspiring, presenting as it does pottery, painting, photography and jewelry that would receive critical praise anywhere, any time. The title makes clear that the exhibition is about five major potters who have worked with Hewitt and have created what the gallery’s website calls “an attractive hybrid style that honors the past while making it fresh and new.”

The show is much more than just the splendid pottery of those artists; it is a horn of plenty that includes major work by artists such as Jane Filer (whose solo show immediately proceeded “A New Tradition”), near-abstractions by the colorist painter Peg Bachenheimer, and works abstract and realistic by other members of FRANK (I wish there were space here to mention them all).

As if this were not enough, there are the “art” photographs of Barbara Tyroler, Bill McAllister, Peter Filene, Mark Dehmer, and others, subjects that through the artists’ eyes become much, much more than what we might think of as candid-camera shots. Colored or black and white, varied in texture and the techniques of exposure, these works display the aesthetic qualities of all good art. And one must not overlook the pieces by John Rosenthal, which, as is often the case, are cultural critiques even as they are artistically sophisticated.

Not finally, but also, there are small works by various of these artists and others: the sculptures of Sasha Bakaric, Susan Filley, Judith Ernst and Cathy Kiffney, for instance. Except that there are other talented members of the Frank collective whose works are not displayed this time, the show might have been titled “All Things Great and Small,” or something like that to convey what a wealth of riches is on display.

At least three things are important about “A New Tradition:” it adds greatly to the cultural life of Franklin Street and thus of Chapel Hill; as have other FRANK exhibitions, it demonstrates how much absolutely first-rate art we have hereabouts; and, in addition to the qualities of individual works, the installation as a whole offers a scintillating experience.

Gordon Jameson and Luna Lee Ray, who hung/placed the exhibition, have created a work of art, which is not very often what one says about entire shows. When you enter the gallery you are immediately struck by the bold simplicity of the red and black letters announcing the title. Then to your right is one of Mark Hewitt’s largest pots, leading a line of his and the others’ works down along the right, highlighted by a plain but brilliant white wall, at the interior end of which on the floor are a number of the vividly colored masks that always accompany Jane Filer’s paintings. These masks, like the many pots and other works, are distinctive where they have been placed in the various spaces of the gallery, because of their placement, sizes, and color patterns ultimately becoming a unified whole, truly an art collective. It is not to be missed.

Townsend Ludington, Boshamer Distinguished Professor of American Studies and English, Emeritus, UNC-CH, is a member of the FRANK Gallery Board of Directors.

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