Culture- ART FEATURE- <b>Dignity reclaimed: Shepherd's beautiful N.O. abyss</b>
While viewing John Shepherd's wrenchingly beautiful black-and-white photographs of New Orleans, collected in the Mudhouse exhibition, "The Aftermath of Katrina," I recalled a book from my publishing days. David Toole's Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo argues that art can offer meaning, restore dignity— even serve as protest— in the face of suffering.
"To turn catastrophe into tragedy and to escape from sheer terror," Toole writes, "requires precisely that we do not demonize nature but rather stand before it in wonder— even as it destroys us."
Drawing on Nietzche, Toole suggests we can "tame the horrible" by immersing ourselves in "the beauty of the abyss." John Shepherd's lens ushers us into the abyss of post-Katrina New Orleans, where we find awe, grief, and even moments of wry humor. His 11" x 14" silver gelatin prints may be modest in size, but their emotional and spiritual content is enormous.
While unflinchingly focusing on the devastation, Shepherd reveals exquisite and often absurd details in the most unexpected places. In one image, a car's front end juts from beneath a house like the Wicked Witch of the East's legs in The Wizard of Oz. In another, three porcelain toilets— surrounding walls long gone— sit in the open with their seats and lids in various positions, calling to mind the see-hear-speak-no-evil monkeys.
Shepherd's artistry emerges in his skillful composition and tonal range. In "Chandelier by Dark Passage," an in-focus, four-bulb fixture— three of its white fluted shades still intact— dangles crookedly in the foreground while petals of wallpaper peel beside an inky out-of-focus doorway in the background. Vines entwine the chandelier's arms while withered tree branches extend into the frame on the right. The melancholia is palpable.
Even the grim marks left by inspectors on empty houses offer beauty in Shepherd's eyes. In "No Answer/No Smell," large spray-painted x's mirror the patterns of an iron window grill and a chain-link fence that, in the end, failed to provide protectection. A central dark and scraggly bush emphasizes nature's defiance of containment.
One of Shepherd's most interesting images, "Virgin Mary," shows a faded Madonna standing inside an upturned half bathtub planted in a front yard. Among the detritus strewn like offerings before the makeshift altar, a lone crutch lies abandoned, as if a testimony to the possibility of miracles in the midst of destruction.
There are no people in Shepherd's photos, but their ghosts are everywhere. And Shepherd restores their dignity, even as he protests their loss.
John Shepherd's photographic exhibition, "The Aftermath of Katrina," is on view at the Mudhouse through August. 213 W. Main St. 984-6833.
Culture Art List
Published August 24, 2006 in issue 0534 of the Hook
The McGuffey Art Center ends its annual two-week summer hiatus on August 29 when it opens James Covert's "Works on Paper" in the main gallery, and the Central Virginia Watercolor Guild's annual juried exhibition in the upstairs and downstairs hallway galleries. Both shows run through October 1. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.
Second Street Gallery is on break but returns to art action in September with an exhibition by photography "it girl" Anna Gaskell. 115 Second St. SE (in the Charlottesville City Center for the Arts). 977-7284.
Les Yeux du Monde features work by Gloria and David Lee through August 25. Also, on August 26, the gallery features a special one-day sale of Bogdan Achimescu's work, 3-7pm. High tea will be served. 115 S. First St. 973-5566.
The University of Virginia Art Museum is currently preparing for the opening of "Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture," which opens September 1. 155 Rugby Road. 924-3592.
Through September, the main gallery of UVA's Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture, located in the new Special Collections Library, features "The Style of Power: Building a Nation," which examines the art, architecture, and decorative arts popular in post-Revolutionary America. 972-4254.
On August 29, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection opens "Radiance: Seeing the Divine in Aboriginal Art," which will remain on view through December 21. 400 Worrell Drive, Pantops. 244-0234.
The Gallery @ 5th & Water presents "Beyond the Barn Door," an exhibition of acrylic paintings by Pat Howe, through August 27. Located in the upstairs foyer of Henderson & Everett and Stoneking/von Storch. 107 5th St. 979-9825.
The Creature Gallery offers wildlife photographer Hal Brindley's latest show, "Alaska," on view through October. 824 Hinton Ave. 284-1800.
Migration: A Gallery offers a second summer show, "Inside / Out," featuring paintings by Lynn Boggess and ceramics by local fave Tom Clarkson. Also on view, "Elemental Harmonies," which showcases the work of painter Suzanne Howes-Stevens and metal artist, Jim Martin. Also in August, the gallery hosts the Charlottesville-Albemarle Art Association's 13th Annual Juried Show. All on view through August 29. 119 Fifth St. SE. 293-2200.
For the month of August, the C&O Gallery displays Jonathan Doner's "Textures and Transformations." 515 E. Water St. (next to the C&O Restaurant). 971-7044.
John Trippel presents an exhibition of paintings at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center, on view through mid-October. 1600 Melbourne Road (behind CHS). 923-4544.
Art Upstairs features Peter Alamonte's "A Watercolor Retrospective: 1960's to the Present," on view through August 31. 316 E. Main St. (2nd floor of the Hardware Store). 923-3900.
The new Convergence gallery features work by aerosol street artists during August. 414 E. Main St. (in the basement under the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar). 825-8184.
Angelo presents Laura J. Snyder's "Lightness and Weight," an exhibition of paintings and works on paper that explore "a conflict between the physical and the spiritual," on view through August 31. 220 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 971-9256.
During August, HOME showcases new paintings and mixed-media pieces by Andrew Hersey. A portion of all sales benefits the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. 126-D Garrett St. (in the Gleasons Building). 293-2812.
Mono Loco displays an 11-artist group show, "Wherever You Go, There You Are," through August 31. 200 W. Water St. 409-7556.
In August, La Galeria presents Roger Lehr's exhibition of oils and acrylics entitled, "Differences." 218 W. Market St. (next to Vinegar Hill Theatre). 293-7003.
August 1-31, C'ville Coffee presents "Whitmans– A Sampling of Media and Subjects from the Paintings of Judy Carraway." 1301 Harris St. (across from Circa). 817-2633.
Mudhouse presents post-Katrina photography by John Shepherd, on view in August. 213 W. Main St. 984-6833. See Art feature, page XX.
During August, Order from Horder presents work by photographer Cary Oliva. 425 E. Main St. 293-9166.
The work of Laura Lee Gulledge is featured in "99 Versions of Laura Lee on the Wall," at the Starr Hill Gallery during August. 709 Main St. 989-2554.
The 5th Floor Gallery at Keller Williams Realty features an August show of Heliardo Aragao's work along with work by painter Gidey Gezahey. Habitat for Humanity receives 10 percent of all sales. 300 Preston Ave., Suite 500. 220-2201.
Sage Moon Gallery presents "Essence Revealed," an exhibition of work by ceramic sculptor Diann Schindler, through August. 420 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 977-9997.
The latest installment in poet Laurance Wieder and artist Andrea Korotky's "Poem Site: Songs in the Landscape" features the painted window, "The Last Century," and the take-it-with-you poem, "A Look Ahead" in the Poem Tube. The installment runs through September 15. Front yard of 2331 Highland Ave. 295-5057.
Through August 31, the Boar's Head Inn Store presents artwork in various media by Mary Boxley Bullington, Gray Dodson, Jeanette Buys, Jack Cacciatore, and Kirk McCauley. Rte. 250W. 977-2241.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle Art Association's new members show, featuring work by Lucia Bakewell, Michael Bednar, Joy Cross, Christine Rich, and Marcy Springett, is currently on view upstairs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport. 295-2486 or 973-9700.
The Central Virginia Watercolor Guild displays new watercolor, pastel, acrylic, and mixed-media work at the Albemarle County Courthouse through October 31. 410 E. High St. 964-1423.
In August, Transient Crafters presents Meg West's latest exhibition of regional landscapes entitled "Summer Views." 118 E. Main St. 972-9500.
Through August 31, Gravity Lounge features Joseph Piorkowski's exhibition, "Another Summer of Peace." 103 S. First St. (below Caspari). 977-5590.
White Orchid Restaurant shows "Photographs of Vietnam" by the late Georgia Barbour through August 31. 420 W. Main St. 297-4400.
Glo is currently showing paintings by Christian Peri. 225 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 295-7432.
Blue Ridge Beads & Glass displays new paintings and art glass by Jerry O'Dell. 1724 Allied St. 434-293-2876.
L'étoile Restaurant displays paintings by local artists Barry Gordon, Malcolm Hughes, and Christian Peri. 817 W. Main St. (across from the Amtrak Station). 979-7957.
On August 25, the Staunton Augusta Art Center opens "Ex Votos," an exhibition of Tom Chambers' digital montages, which will remain on view through September 29. A reception is scheduled for August 25, 5-8pm. 1 Gypsy Hill Park, Staunton. 540-885-2028.
Washington and Lee University's Williams School of Commerce presents "Art Song," an exhibition of etchings, monotypes, relief prints, and lithographs by Judith Kahn. The show runs through September. Lexington. 540-458-8602.
The Artisans Center of Virginia presents ceramicist Dan Finnegan's show, "New Kiln-New Studio-New Work" during August. 601 Shenandoah Village Road (Exit 94 off I64), Waynesboro. 540-296-3294.
Orange's Corner House Gallery features Virginia landscapes and architecture studies by Linda Bourdreaux Montgomery and Virginia Unakite, along with jewelry by Coryne Simone LaBry. 173 W. Main St. 540-672-5019.
Through October 8, Madison's Sevenoaks Pathwork Center features "Organic Studies," a show of photography by Ruth Adams. 540-948-6544.
Lovingston's The Eye of the Beholder gallery offers "Stopping Points," featuring paintings, drawings, and photographs by Elizabeth Hutson. Located in the Packing Shed on Front St. 996-5058.
The Barn Swallow features pottery by Janice Arone and Mary Ann Burke, plus other handcrafted artwork. Route 682 off 250W. 434-979-4884.
The Ed Jaffe Gallery features paintings and marble sculptures by Ed Jaffe, plus abstract photographs by Marc Jaffe. 108 W. Main St., Orange. 540-672-2400.
The Fluvanna Heritage Trail Foundation Art Show invites entries for its annual exhibition on October 6. Works created within the last three years are eligible for entry, and the deadline is September 28. Entry forms are available at Maggie's House in Palmyra, the Fluvanna County Library, the Community Center in Fork Union, and the McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville. For more info., contact Windy Payne, 434-296-5243, or email email@example.com.
The Scottsville Council of the Arts invites submissions of painting, sculpture, and other media—but not photography—for its "Fine Art Show" during JamesFest, October 13-22. Deadline for application is September 15. 429 Valley St., Scottsville. Info and application: avenue.org/sca" or 286-4945.