Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jeffrey Day's blog post on Blues Chapel and Last Words

Jefrfrey Day's BLOG is the best place to learn about art events in the Midlands and beyond! Check it out HERE!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't even think about sleeping this weekend

Thursday, Feb. 4

Exhibitions take you from the church to the graveyard
Susan Lenz began working on her series “Blues Chapel” in 2006 and “Last Words” in 2008. She wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but it turns out they made good neighbors like a church and a graveyard.
“Blues Chapel,” an homage to women in the blues. and “Last Words,” fabric pieces based on gravestone rubbings, open today at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios.
“Blues Chapel” started as a part of a thematic show at the gallery, “The Blues on Lady Street,” to bemoan the never-ending streetscaping in front of the studios. Lenz admitted that she didn’t quite grasp the idea, but she did start learning about the blues, something she didn’t know much about. A strong feminist Lenz made 24 saint-like images of great women in the blues - Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Alberta Hunter and others. Many of these women had hard lives – suffering at the hands of the music industry, men, drugs and alcohol. (She pointed out that she was saying this two days after singer Beyonce won six Grammy Awards.)
These individual portraits grew into something bigger and turned into an installation complete with altar and candles in her tiny studio. Not long after, the Sumter Gallery of Art asked her to show the works in a much bigger space.

“Oh, I’m going to have to build a church,” Lenz said she thought at the time.
So she did adding “stained glass” pieces, a bigger altar, more candles and flowers and two church pews.

The genesis for this work was as random as for “Blues Chapel.” While at a residency in Maine in 2008, she was reading a book about quilting and it suggested using rubbings from graves in quilted fabric.
“I started doing these rubbings, but I thought it the back of my mind, ‘I’ll never use these,’” she said.

She was wrong about that. “Last Words” is made up of 30 grave rubbing quilts, 25 photo transfers with stitching and sheer fabrics embroidered with epitaphs.

Since stopping by those family plots in Maine, Lenz has done rubbings from California to Columbia and many places in between as well as England. The rubbings are from graves dating from 1596 to last year.

“I found one that said ‘Never accurate, but never dull,’” she said. Another for an artist couple (not yet dead) read “Actor to Ashes, Dancer to Dust.”
“You get a wonderful sense of these people,” Lenz said.

The show has a serious side. She wants people to think about how they will be and want to be remembered (not to mentioned disposed of.)
“I hope this opens up a dialogue for that to happen,” she said.

To help with that planning, the “Last Words” has sponsors: Shive Funeral Home and Fletcher Monuments. Both will have literature at the show. (Flipping open a monument book, Lenz was pleasantly surprised that a headstone could be had for $300.)

The artist had some extra work she wasn’t planning. When “Chapel” was shown in Denton, Texas, starting in November, one of the “stained-glass” pieces was sold. She figured the installation would work fine without that one piece. Then two weeks ago a Greenwood bank purchased the other five. (“Blues Chapel” has been shown several places; “Last Words” piece have been in regional, national and international exhibitions.)

“I've been working like crazy trying to create six new pieces,” Lenz said last weekend. “Same size, same ten-blue hours a piece It has been insane.”
(She finished them with a couple of days to spare.)
An opening reception takes place Friday from 6 to 8.

In conjunction with the show and just down the hallway at the Blue Martini singer Eboniramm performs tunes by many of the singers spotlighted in “Blues Chapel” at 7 p.m. The performance is free. For the second one at 9 p.m. admission is $5.

The show remains on display through Feb. 16. Because it is tied in to Blue Martini, the gallery will be open unusual hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday Tuesday and Wednesday; noon to 6 Sunday.
The gallery, 808 Lady St., can be reached at 252-6134 and the Blue Martini at 256-2442.

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