Waterworks exhibit takes viewers beyond the surface

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 12, 2021

SALISBURY — Waterworks Visual Arts Center in Salisbury will present Beyond the Surface, a new exhibition opening Monday, Sept. 13. Waterworks invites everyone to the opening reception and meet the artists event from 5:30-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, at 123 E. Liberty Street. The event is free; please RSVP to admin@waterworks.org.

Beyond the Surface includes three autonomous exhibits by four North Carolina artists: Sacred Spaces 360, featuring works by Will James; It’s in the Genes: A Mother and Daughter Show, featuring works by Phyllis Steimel and her daughter Beth Barger, and The Weight of All That Is, featuring works by Liz McKay. Both James and mother-daughter painters Steimel and Barger, credit their artistic abilities as inherited gifts. James grew up in a household appreciative of art. His father was also an amateur photographer and his grandfather painted colorful scenes of the Rocky Mountain West. Steimel’s mother (Barger’s grandmother) was a trained artist who was fascinated by faces, and Steimel found inspiration in her mother’s ability to capture life on paper. With love and intention, she passed on the art that fulfills her, to her daughter.

For McKay, family was the key influencer of how and when she would pursue her artistic passion. She paused her career to focus on raising her family, and at mid-life found herself challenged to regain her footing as “a creative.” Drawing on personal obstacles and experiences, McKay uses her talent to approach and deal with life as it comes. Creating the paintings in her exhibit is therapeutic for McKay. She features large ovoid stones to represent the weight of current social, political and climate crises. “The scale of these stone-shaped forms, balancing precariously within their surroundings, projects a sense of tension not unlike that which we feel when faced with subjects and situations we’d rather not acknowledge, much less discuss openly for fear of rejection or hostile repercussion,” explains McKay. Her most recent paintings relate to the threat of global climate change, specifically the loss of polar ice. “Still, within these images, the stones are present; the threat of their crushing weight lying just below the surface.”

James draws viewers inside the worship sanctuaries of churches in Salisbury and nearby communities with a unique 360-degree photography process, which took years to discover and master. A 45-year career practicing law for U.S. government agencies in countries with emerging economies sent James across Europe and Central Asia. Camera always in hand, James captured the structures and scenery from his travels, refining his abilities and confidence over time until his amateur photography evolved to a semi-professional level. Inspired by the works of Candida Höfer, a German photographer known for her lifetime of capturing “portraits” of some of the world’s most iconic buildings, James’ current project is to photograph the interior spaces of church sanctuaries throughout Rowan and other Piedmont counties. He does so in a 360-degree equi-rectangular format. The resulting large-scale photographs — ranging from six to seven by three feet — accomplish a maximum degree of focus, sharpness, and depth of field. A high range of luminosity in the photographs reveals details, both in shadow areas as well as in normally bright areas, such as windows.

Colorful and nostalgic paintings, captured en Plein Air by Steimel and Barger depict landscapes and life of the North Carolina Piedmont region. A plein air workshop taken together in Brittany, France, launched their painting partnership. Steimel received her art training at Syracuse University, and daughter Barger majored in art at East Carolina University. Carting easels, brushes and paints to favorite locals is their absolute favorite way to share their passion. In addition to France, this pair have painted in New Mexico, Topsail Beach and the North Carolina mountains. Steimel shares her expertise with other plein air painters through Plein Air Carolina, of which she is co-founder. Barger sums it up. “From my grandma, to my mom, to me, it really is “in the genes….they bring me daily joy.”

There is always more to see, beyond the surface, where people can relate and begin to understand one another. Waterworks Visual Arts Center provides diverse opportunities in the visual arts for all people. Learn more about the museum, its exhibitions, educational opportunities, and community outreach at www.waterworks.org.

Waterworks Visual Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Waterworks’ mission is to provide diverse opportunities in the visual arts for all people through exhibitions, education, and outreach. Funding sources: individual memberships, corporations and businesses, foundations, the City of Salisbury, and Rowan County, the NC Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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