Nevermind the South, these paintings are beautiful

by Jordan Green

| | @JordanGreenYES

The title From Dixieland suggests a regional theme — an interesting concept for a pair of artists visiting from Los Angeles, one of whom is a Winston-Salem native and the other an outsider.

The setting for the exhibit, Ember Gallery in Winston-Salem’s Downtown Arts District — which doubles as a high-end stereo shop — colors the experience of the paintings. Whether consistent with the theme or not, the vivid oils and watercolors burst with color and movement on the white walls of the rectangular storefront. They look fantastic.

As an arena for high-fidelity stereo sales, Ember goes for minimalism, with generous open space and a ’70s-style easy chair placed in the middle of simple rug facing a pair of top-line speakers. The lack of clutter lets the art come to the fore, but then the artfully designed black speakers, which widen from the base, could almost be mistaken for onyx sculptures.

“We want things to be sleek and clean and playful,” said Blake Stewart, who operates Ember with his twin brother, Chris Livengood.

The brothers attended high school with David Edward Martin, who trained as a cinematographer. Martin returned to Winston-Salem from Los Angeles with his partner, Ayuna Collins — a professional dancer originally from Boulder, Colo. — to attend to family matters. Over the past three months, they painted the collection that became From Dixieland, contributing individual pieces and collaborating on a diptych watercolor on paper called “Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other.”

Stewart describes the exhibit as “a response to Southern culture.”

“In the modern era, there are some hard lines, boundaries between what we know as acceptable and unacceptable, particularly in gender roles,” he said. “For an artist, boundaries are something to be toyed with.”

Both painters used their non-dominant left hands to paint the pieces featured in From Dixieland.

“Once you push through that mental barrier, your dominant hand is your rational voice while your non-dominant hand is like your singing voice,” Stewart said.

Stewart acted as docent for the exhibit on a recent Wednesday evening, filling in for Martin and Collins while they visited Charlotte. He pointed to a trio of paintings by Martin depicting a bare-chested man putting on or taking off a tie that are infused with a palpable shade of red. Martin is interested in the idea of the tie as being both armor and sword, Stewart said.

“Six of One” most vividly suggests the presence and possible transgression of gender roles, although its meaning eludes easy interpretation. The painting appears to depict multiple exposures of a woman in stilettos holding a hoop, leaping through it and then crumpling to the ground. In the final and prone station, the woman’s features are blurred, as if she’s lost her identity. Meanwhile, a male figure posing like Michelangelo’s David and holding a hoop casts a shadow over the fallen female. His features are already blurred beyond recognition.

One of Martin’s paintings, “Goodwill,” stands apart from the rest by its absence of hot color and depiction of the human figure. Bathed in luxuriant indigo, the painting shows a vacant Goodwill store with a prominent awning at the intersection of Liberty and 6 th streets. The scene is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s familiar with Winston-Salem, but it could just as easily be located in Shreveport, La. or Owensboro, Ky. But “Goodwill” also defies the regional categorization of the exhibit because the setting could just as easily be Youngstown, Ohio or Camden, NJ.

“A lot of us think it’s so odd that Fourth and Trade have been developed, but not Liberty,” Stewart said. “These guys are sitting on their properties waiting to see who sells first. So nothing is happening.”

The painting points the way forward for Martin, Stewart said, adding that the next exhibit will likely be called Give Me Liberty. !


From Dixieland, an exhibit of paintings by Dave Martin and Ayuna Collins, is on view at Ember Gallery, located at 690 Trade St. in Winston-Salem. Call 336.703.5214 for more information.