Reinterpreting the Past

by Brian Crean

Sometimes the best way forward is to take a look back. And, sometimes the best way to find and develop your own unique voice is to incorporate the person you used to be with the person you are today.

Such is the work of Mona Wu and Mary Beth Blackwell-Chapman, two accomplished Winston-Salem artists showing at the Artworks Gallery in July.

Located right on the corner of 6th and Trade streets, the gallery has become an institution in the Winston-Salem art community. An artist cooperative run by a group of 24 members and a host of loyal volunteers, the gallery has been around for over 25 years. Not a bad track record considering the economic ups and downs the Triad has experienced during that time.

Just recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with both artists and ask them about their work, and I must say, they did not disappoint. Like their work, each was interesting, open and generous.

Mona Wu lived in Hong Kong before moving to Winston- Salem back in 1970. She explored a number of different media over the years before attaching herself to the Wake Forest University printmaking studio for the last 12. Combining a variety of interests, her approach is nuanced and exacting. Recognized as the Winston-Salem artist of the year back in 2003, she has also learned to carefully combine a more traditional interest in Chinese painting and calligraphy with a more innovative experimental style of her own.

Although she demonstrates her flexibility by utilizing collage in a number of pieces, one particular work really stands out. In a work entitled “Drunk,” Wu showcases the breadth of her vision. Both detailed and playful, it’s both a watercolor and a calligraphic woodcut that is sure to bring a smile to your face — especially if you’re capable of reading Chinese calligraphy.

In other works, Wu cuts and pastes her paintings in geometric and highly symmetrical arrangements. Although she attempts to shake things up and be experimental, she can go only so far. Her attention to detail is a truly wonderful problem, a gift that she can’t, and shouldn’t, quite shake off.

Blackwell-Chapman’s imagery is also engaging. Literary and tactile, her sculpture exudes a great deal of personality and imagination. Well read and well traveled, the artist has developed a wealth of experience and an impressive breadth of knowledge over the years. Fortunately for us, she is able to share it quite elegantly (instead of didactically). Holding degrees in both literature and film, it’s not surprising that she enjoys creating narratives that reference mythological tales, nature and memory.

Several of her more recent pieces also focus on nature themes. “Thunderwood” is a kind of sculptural artist book. With pages that look like a hanging fan surrounded by a solid and heavy wooden cover, the work achieves an interesting visual balance. In another work titled “Moving Stories,” the artist presents us with a small grouping of fascinating objects. If it is possible for something to look like both a book and a round block, Blackwell-Chapman has succeeded in creating it. And if it is possible for a person to move forward by revisiting the past, then both Blackwell- Chapman and Wu have shown us the way.

wanna go?

First Friday Art Hops happen the first Friday of each month in Greensboro along Elm Street and in Winston- Salem emanating from the corner of 6th and Trade streets. Click HERE for events listings.