News Column

Emerging local artists: Youths with a view at PFAC

July 16, 2014

By Teresa Annas, The Virginian-Pilot

July 17--NEWPORT NEWS -- How can we keep creative young adults in this region?

It's a question many locals have pondered as they watched bright, young talent leave Hampton Roads for more progressive locales.

The Peninsula Fine Arts Center is doing its bit with the show "NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists," featuring 10 native artists, four of whom live in Hampton Roads.

The exhibition, which opened last weekend, gives rising artists a high-profile showcase, even before some have shown in galleries.

"It highlights how we as a community need to come together to support the brilliant, creative minds that live in these artists," said Diana Blanchard Gross, who curated the show. "Otherwise, I'm fearful they will leave for other areas that are maybe more flourishing in the arts."

For the past two weeks, the arts center was turned into a studio as three of the artists created large-scale installations in the galleries.

Those artists talked about their projects, and what they mean.

Warped view

Hampton Boyer, 25, leaned toward a gallery wall inside the arts center and painted colorful feathers on a giant cartoony bird at the center of his mural.

He stepped down from the ladder to take a break, then pointed at a large robin's-egg-blue object to the left of the bird. It's a glass bottle with legs sticking out at the base.

"The idea of the mural is, the bottle represents the transparency of human emotions," Boyer began.

He said he planned to add objects in the bottle to symbolize what's inside a person. For example, a smiley face without the smile, to be applied as a collaged object. The yellow disk lay on the floor near the mural.

"You see the glass and what's inside the glass, but the glass is blown and it's warped so it gives you a distortion of what's inside," Boyer said in a cool, calm demeanor. He has short dreadlocks and wore paint-spattered cocoa pants.

Warped glass is his metaphor for how we view each other. Consider the vagrants, he said. Many folks pass by drunks and street people and pass judgment.

"Someone loves that person," the artist said.

Boyer grew up in Newport News, focused on photography at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, then left for the Seattle area, where he acquired a serious attitude toward art. He returned four years ago and now has a studio in his hometown.

"Although my work has a light vibe to it, it definitely deals with very real things people encounter." His work can be seen at www.hamptonboyer.blogspot.com.

He has recurring characters. "They're like my trading cards." He imagines his big bird came from an undiscovered tropical island, and said the figure signifies "being an outcast." Many people feel that way, he asserted.

His specialty is murals. "I'm a very empathetic person. That's the reason I make things large -- so you're not just visualizing it, you're consumed by it."

Ebullient effect

Kelsey Witt was using orange, yellow, blue, pink and green tape to make abstract patterns starting on the floor and climbing up the wall.

Witt, 23, was an intern at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center from January to May, and was excited about returning so soon as an artist.

She doesn't pre-plan her unique taped wall art. "I make a mark and I react to the space. I knew I wanted to keep it organic and at the same time geometric."

Because tape has a hard edge, making curved lines with it is tough. But Witt achieved the effect with a cluster of tentacle-like "drips" trailing down the wall. Mostly she chose straight-lined forms for her mural.

Witt studied fine arts and creative writing at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, but had started out in biology, which explains why her patterns are inspired by cell structures and microscopic organisms.

"I love blowing small things up. The drips, for example. There's no way there would ever be so large a drip."

After graduating in 2013, the Newport News native headed for Southern California, where she took odd jobs, stayed with friends and absorbed the upbeat, colorful skate and surf culture that now is a major influence in her art.

She's since returned, with a studio in downtown Hampton. Her vibrant, splashy paintings can be seen online at www.instagram.com/ittakeswitt. And her colorful patterns can be seen on www.society6.com, a website that applies artists' designs to products like mugs, pillows, clocks and iPhone cases and sells them.

While in college, Witt contributed to an online literature blog called Ebullience. "I think that one word describes my work: The overflowing of happiness. I want people to feel my joy in making the work."

Fleeting fabric

From a distance, Stacia Yeapanis' in-progress installation looked like some kind of fabric-and-thread handiwork, perhaps a blend of crochet and embroidery.

Up close, anyone might be surprised to see that the piece is made from photos of objects clipped from magazines and pinned to the wall -- stilettos, cookies, diamonds, steaks, sofas.

Yeapanis, 37, has a graduate degree in fiber and material studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she now teaches fiber arts, including crochet and embroidery.

In 2010 the Newport News native's artwork shifted to collage, but she secured pieces with tape. In 2012 it struck her to stick clippings to the wall with the T-shaped pins used in quilting.

With her "site-responsive improvisational installation," Yeapanis said she is referencing mass media and how a younger generation, especially, deals with the profusion of news and visuals. They look to a website like Pinterest that lets you "pin" what you prefer and share with others.

Her process is similar to how she once created video montages made up of clips from her favorite television shows. Yeapanis edited the clips to create her own storylines, often with an existential tone, she said.

Her collages, which can be seen on www.staciayeapanis.com, are more positive.

Now the Chicago artist embraces the notion of impermanence. Just as all living things must die, her artwork passes, too, after a show. She takes it apart, keeps the components and reincarnates them in another installation. All this is key to the meaning of her work.

"If it's not going to last, we might as well enjoy it now."

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If you go

What "NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists"

Where Peninsula Fine Arts Center, 101 Museum Drive, Newport News

When Through Oct. 12; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays

Cost $7.50 adults, $6 seniors, students, teachers, AAA; $4 ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and younger; admission is good for seven days; as a Blue Star Museum, PFAC offers free admission for active-duty military and their families through Labor Day

Contact 596-8175, www.pfac-va.org

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Teresa Annas, 757-446-2347, teresa.annas@pilotonline.com

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(c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

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