CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Artist interrupted: Will May goes to pieces

What a relief when Will May told a Second Street Gallery crowd that artistically he likes suggesting a narrative structure without a finished story. I had been mulling over the disparate pieces in Mays current SSG exhibition, Interrupt, and was having a hard time making sense of them– both as individual pieces and collectively. Knowing May wants viewers to puzzle over his work explained at least some of my confusion.

May, known locally as a photographer and former McGuffey Art Center member, in the past has created gorgeous, evocative images that imbue their subjects with an iconic quality. Having recently completed a master of fine arts degree, hes now expanded his scope to include sculpture, video, book art, and found-image assemblages.

Im all for artists exploring new territory, but more than once Ive witnessed artists with clear vision enter MFA programs, only to emerge unfocused, as if they havent quite distilled all the new influences theyve encountered. The effect is temporary, but I fear May is in its throes.

Mays book project, Long Walk, its folios running across the back walls of SSGs main gallery, is emblematic of the larger exhibition. The piece is a series of interesting images combined and re-combined. It includes pages from an Irish girls schoolbook, found photos, diagrams, and snippets of Mays own past work.
On one of the first pages, capitalized type reads a a story of a sawdust accident a captain and saving the clown. Its a cryptic promise of things to come, but the mystery never fully unravels. Although there are repeating images of a clown, a tiny rooster on stilts, and a disk of crystals encircling feet dangling over water (resembling the iris and pupil of an eye), what these mean or how they relate to each other remains obscure.

If Mays goal is to keep viewers guessing, Long Walk works. But at the same time its unsuccessful because without a unifying thread to sew it together, the book fails to move beyond being simply a collection of disjointed, if interesting, parts– which is precisely the problem with Mays show as a whole.

Despite its unevenness, Interrupt does contain several strong pieces. Mays large time-lapse photo, Memorial II, with its eerie streaks of light, is compelling. And the sculpture Back Flow, featuring photos distorted by glass globes that bubble up from a PVC-pipe plumbing structure, suggests the twists, turns, and occasional clogs of an artistic life.

Will May: Interrupt is on view at Second Street Gallery through May 27. 115 Second St. SE (in the Charlottesville City Center for the Arts). 977-7284.