Culture- ART FEATURE- Eye opening: Local artists reach 0ut

"Free your mind and the rest will follow." En Vogue was referring to eradicating prejudice, but the lyric looped through my mind in a different context while viewing "Beyond the Bars," an exhibition by inmates from the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, currently on display at the McGuffey Art Center.

Four McGuffey-affiliated artists– Andy Faith, Rose Hill, Lindsay Michie Eades, and LeVonne Yountz– offered 11-week art classes at the jail in subjects ranging from charcoal drawing to abstract art. Rather than languishing in their cells, watching TV, or– let's be realistic– trading tips on various subjects, the prisoners learned ways to express their concerns and emotions visually.

The resulting show runs the gamut from personal collages to vibrant magic-marker abstracts to Christian-inspired ceramics. A few pieces reflect the prison experience– e.g. William Christmas' detailed cell drawing, with its open toilet and calendar dated 2015– but most reach for the remembered world outside, revealing individual dreams and preoccupations, such as William Solomon's numerous water-focused images. 

Although "Beyond the Bars" primarily celebrates the inmates' creative spirits, more than a few of the pieces succeed as works of art, origin aside. Vera Davis' untitled magic-marker abstract is a powerfully composed piece in which black-and white patterned spaces play around central areas of color. Likewise, Anthony Echavarry's experimental marks strewn across the page mesmerize with their modern abstraction, calling to mind Klee, Kandinsky, and Miro.

Another show giving voice to a group often sidelined by society is Second Street Gallery's "A Careful Crash," a video installation by high school students who participated in a "Video as Art" course offered by Light House in fall 2006. In the work, the six teens– Liz Bower, Matt Denton-Edmundson, Mia Gale, Reuben Jones, Sasha Solodukhina, and Nicholas Yellman– explore cycles of destruction and reformation, using the game of Twister as a springboard.

A giant primary-colored Twister board (minus one red dot) extends across the west wall of the Dové Gallery, while, on the east wall, five short films project onto a Twister dot-sized circle. Denton-Edmundson's pomegranate-fueled piece is particularly effective. Meanwhile, Yellman's meditative video, examining the circular disruption and return to stillness of drops falling on a reflective body of water, fills the south wall and offers contrast to the installation's more frenzied and colorful elements. 

Both "Beyond the Bars" and "A Careful Crash" reveal what minds set free by art can accomplish.

"Beyond the Bars" is on view in the downstairs hall gallery at the McGuffey Art Center through February 25. 201 Second St. NW, 295-7973. "A Careful Crash" runs through February 24 in Second Street Gallery's Dové Gallery. 115 Second St. SE (in the Charlottesville City Center for the Arts). 977-7284.