Local Arts

Defense, resistance, protection: ‘New Works’ artists respond

“Mouth of Dancing Daggers” by Jon Prichard.
“Mouth of Dancing Daggers” by Jon Prichard. Courtesy of the artist

The three artists whose work curator Tom Stanley pulled together for “New Works/Alumni One” at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation are vastly different — yet explore similar themes through textiles, photography, and drawings. And each has Carolinas connections:

Jonathan Prichard

From across the room, Jonathan Prichard’s black-and-white pen drawings of royal characters, originally created for a performance art piece by his group Sinergismo, reflect the sharp lines and big gestures of the show, which premiered at April’s Boom Festival. Step closer and you pick up on the patchwork of detail that forms suits of armor and rigid crowns. Get even closer — nose almost pressed to the glass of the frame — and you find miniscule linework and intricate patterns embedded in each form.

Jon Prichard Headshot_2c photo by Lydia Bittner-Baird
Jon Prichard Lydia Bittner-Baird

“The idea was to take the structure — even just the outline of each character — and, through the process of drawing, investigate all the little components of that character,” says Prichard, who lives in Charlotte. “To think of a scene or two that was most memorable that the character went through, and hide all that stuff within the interior of the drawing.”

The original show featured large rolling wood panels that served as both costume and shield.

“I wanted to think about that as a defense mechanism. (For the panels) I was trying to simplify things and work with sharp angles and be very clean. With the drawings I wanted to keep the sharp angles but work almost frenzied.

“It was sort of about this need to defend one’s self from an attack — these stressful situations,” he says. “In the performance, the king dies and nobody has any idea what to do, because the king was the one that allowed the group to work together and protect themselves.”

After working on multi-discipline performances with the ensemble and creating large-scale historical exhibits at his day job for the York County Museum, returning to simple ink and paper as a solo artist was a bit daunting.

“That was the scary thing. Right off the bat I was thinking of doing big flashy work that’s going to catch people’s attention,” says Prichard, who was encouraged by curator Stanley to focus on drawing. “I really wanted to hone in on this really simple foundational way of working and still try to deliver a powerful set of images.”

While most of Sinergismo’s projects have been one-off performances, “Not See For Looking” continues to evolve. Another performance is set for Nov. 29, during a party celebrating the closing fall art residencies as well as alumni work at the McColl Center.

“The ultimate goal is for the characters to take on their own life,” he says. “It feels like there’s plenty of ground to explore.”

Michaela Pilar Brown

Michaela Pilar Brown. Courtesy of the artist

Although Michaela Pilar Brown grew up in Colorado, each summer she would return to her father’s native South Carolina, where the family would commune with other members of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church at a weeklong revival on the grounds of Camp Welfare. It was there, among the small clapboard buildings Brown’s grandfather helped build, that she staged her latest photographic exploration into history, form and place.

“I’m always talking about issues that relate to the embodiment of blackness. A lot of it centers around personal history, either related to objects or geography,” Brown says.

Founded shortly after the Civil War, Camp Welfare has hosted the annual A.M.E. campground revival for more than 160 years. “It was the one place as a child where you could have freedom. That was where all eyes were on you and no eyes were on you,” she says.

“It’s a part of this tradition of the A.M.E. Church and it’s also a little secular. I grew up watching that,” she says, raising the question: “What is black faith? It’s secular and sacred and protected in that way ... Black Americans have been underfelt from the moment we got here. I’m particularly interested in those places we find comfort. Where we feel like we can be ourselves.”

She was living in D.C., where she’d attended Howard University in the ’90s, when her father was diagnosed with cancer and began to suffer from Alzheimer’s. That drew her back to South Carolina in the early 2000s, and she found herself caring for him and absorbing area history.

Brown, who does performance art as well as painting, collage and other media, often appears in her works. “I began to think of myself as material,” she says. In these photographs, Brown stalks the property unclothed, squatting in high grass, sometimes armed with tools and weapons. It’s a bit of script flipping, she says. “What if those things that were used to demean and destroy us became the tools of our resistance?”

The images don’t necessarily depict a distinct time and place, although their origins are linked to Brown’s history. “I try to operate with a little humor or fantasy,” she says. “If this were a dystopian culture and I was a sole survivor, what would be the tools I’d use? How would I move through space? How much is an evolution of those things we’ve endured? What would we hang on to?”

Erika Diamond

“Spider” Vest by Erika Diamond. Courtesy of the artist

Diamond’s work has long explored immortality, from drawings made from strands of her hair to family slides. There’s even a list of ways to live forever on her website. But her work took on a more literal interpretation after the 2016 Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando.

“I was concerned, and my friends were concerned, but I didn’t know if the general public was as affected emotionally by it,” says Diamond, whose parents have a long history on the Charlotte ballet scene. “I wanted to do a project where I could think of a way to protect my community.”

She knew she wanted to take a personal approach to working with bulletproof material “without making it about me,” says Diamond. “I started thinking about the people in my life now. Then it became a larger project.”

She thought “The Queer Collection” would consist of snazzy club wear made of Kevlar. Instead, she made pieces specifically for people she knew, and each person’s style shaped her design. She made a Kevlar hooded vest with a soft jersey lining for a friend from high school who prefers casual hoodies. Another friend described her look to Diamond as “a drag queen’s style with a Western flair.”

So “I was like ‘Oh, you’re getting pearl snaps and gold piping and a shinier Kevlar fabric,’ ” says Diamond.

She incorporated weaving techniques, which she’d studied while getting an MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University, into other pieces. She used a loom to make the Kevlar “lapghan” blanket and created a flowy, feminine bobbin lace vest.

Erika Diamond Courtesy of the artist

“I wouldn’t count on it being 100 percent bulletproof, but the idea is still there. It got me thinking about who would need a lace vest and who would need something more protective. Who we give protection to is another big question.”

The project is partly tongue-in-cheek, she says: “I don’t think me making festive Kevlar garments is the way to solve the problem.” Then again, “if this is the way things continue, I like to think of the queer community as pretty resilient. If I have to wear a protective vest to go about my daily business, then what do I want it to look like? So there’s a lighthearted aspect to it, but obviously there’s problematic subject matter imbedded within it.”

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

‘New Works / Alumni One’

Through Jan. 5 at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, 721 N. Tryon St.; mccollcenter.org/events/new-works-alumni-one/223. The Nov. 29 party, called The Outcome, is 6-9 p.m.