‘Issues’ exhibit focuses on shared humanity

by Keith Barber


The title of artist Scott Eagle’s latest exhibit, I’ve Got Issues, currently on display at 5IVE & 40RTY Gallery on Trade Street in Winston-Salem, was inspired by the constant refrain he hears at showings of his own work. Eagle, an artist and art professor at East Carolina University, said he takes on very personal issues in his work, which some viewers find disturbing. “People who see my work always say, ‘You’ve got issues,’” Eagle explained with a laugh. “Everyone’s got issues — that’s the really big idea. You have to address those issues and art, I believe, is a wonderful way to do that.” The exhibit, which runs through January, features artists that have inspired Eagle with the intensity, honesty and daring nature of their work. Featured artists Nancy Baker, Audrey Coombs, Jennifer Drinkwater, Tim French, McArthur Freeman, Jason Mitcham, Kymia Nawabi, Janie Askew Paredes, Michele Roberts and Victoria Sexton have a regional flavor. All artists in the exhibit have a strong North Carolina connection. But that’s not why Eagle, a Winston-Salem native, related so closely to their work. “My work is always about my life and things that are going on in my life — just think what I might be doing if I couldn’t paint,” Eagle said. The genesis of Eagle’s collaboration with 5IVE&40RTY Gallery came as a result of his longtime friendship with gallery owner Amy Garland. Eagle and Garland both attended RJ Reynolds High School, and reconnected many years later. At Garland’s request, Eagle agreed to an exhibition at 5IVE&40RTY in 2006 and the response was overwhelmingly positive. “It was one of my better-selling shows,” Garland said. Garland proposed a second collaboration, and I’ve Got Issues was born. Eagle cited Freeman’s “Gimme Some Shugah” as a work that makes social commentary by taking the viewer out of his or her comfort zone. In the multiple medium work, Freeman juxtaposes archetypes of African-American culture in fashion that create a feeling of uneasiness in the viewer. “I create narrative paintings, drawings, digital images and installations exploring race, double consciousness, and the construction of identity,” Freeman said in a statement. “The images are a synthesis of children’s book illustrations, fairy tales and invented characters with historical narratives, images from popular culture and social critique to create a Wonderland-like world that has gone disturbingly awry, but is seductively beautiful.” Eagle’s said he was so impressed by a presentation Freeman made to a group of art students that he decided his work must go into the exhibit. “Whenever he spoke and projected all these images that are sometimes pretty intense and all the horrible things he was thinking about — lynchings and the visual metaphors he was using — and what he was going through trying to figure this out and it was done in such a way that we in the audience were comfortable enough to continue a dialogue without this huge amount of guilt, anger and animosity about this subject which is taboo in mixed company,” Eagle said. Eagle also thought of Nancy Baker’s work when he first began assembling the exhbit. Baker’s “Pubic Wars,” an oil on woodpanel piece, showcases her meticulous style of painting and masterful use of metaphor to comment on world events. “Pubic Wars” could be interpreted as social commentary on America’s war in Iraq. “That one in particular speaks to the clash of the cultures and technology versus a 13 th -century religion,” Eagle said. Artist Tim French views art as a way of working through deep-seeded emotional issues. His paintings reflect a tormented soul, and his working through process comes to life on the canvas. “I began drinking in 1973,” French said in a statement. “I had started down the wrong path at an early age. Self-destruction was the result. What was left was a trail of broken homes, disrupted lives, empty bank accounts, disappointed parents and ex-wives. I sought help from psychiatrists, medical doctors and AA. Nothing worked.”

Two of French’s works in I’ve Got Issues — “Social Vat” and “Red Bud” — depict his struggle with inner demons, and present disturbing images to the viewer. Other artists showcased in I’ve Got Issues wereinspired by the struggles of others. Artist Janie Askew used herbrother’s depression as the subject matter for the majority of her workduring her college years. “My work has always derived from theostracized states of mankind, Askew said. “My brother committed suicidemy final years of undergraduate. The body of work completed incollege was in some ways a prediction of this event. My images weretribal deformed characters. I was attempting to strip the externalappearance of my brother and expose his demons.” Askew’s workwith physically and mentally handicapped students after collegeprovided the basis for her work, “Vaselined His Penis and Caught Vomitin a Fresh White Diaper.” Anne Laperriere, a local artist, checked out the I’ve Got Issues exhibit on Jan. 2. “It’s different, colorful. I like something that’s beautiful but punchy, too,” Laperriere said. I’ve Got Issues packs a punch — a wallop, in fact. Garland said her affinity for contemporary art is based upon its provocative nature, and I’ve Got Issues representswhat’s best in contemporary art. “Most people think of art as somethingpretty to hang on your wall, but art should be thought-provoking,” shesaid. Eagle said there were no specific criteria for selecting worksfor the show. It was based more on a gut feeling. “Their workhad to inspire me on a personal level. They made me look at the ideathey were dealing with in a completely different way. In getting toknow them, I believe my life is better for having known them and theirwork,” he said.