Four distinctive Troy artists on display at Johnson Center

Published 11:12 am Monday, September 15, 2008

The Grand Opening of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts on Sept. 14 will feature four local artists along with the “Prints on Andy Warhol” exhibition. The exhibitions will run through Nov. 15.

Richard Metzger said the Johnson Center for the Arts is committed to bringing traveling art exhibitions, guests artists and local artists to the Johnson Center for the Arts.

“We are excited about the Andy Warhol exhibition but we are equally excited to exhibit the artwork of local artists,” he said. “Our area is blessed with outstanding artists and we look forward to showcasing their work.”

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The artists whose works are featured during the grand opening exhibitions include two Troy University professors, Pam Allen and Sara Dismukes, and Troy artists, Jim Campbell and Sally Fenn.

Allen received her undergraduate degree at the Ringling School of Art and Design and a master’s degree from Ole Miss. She has been teaching 2D art – painting, drawing and printmaking – at Troy University for 20 years.

Allen’s exhibit is titled “Mementos” and the work comes the “souvenirs” she brought home from a trip to Italy last summer with a group of students.

“‘Mementos’ is about my experiences on the trip,” she said. “When you go on a trip, you often bring back trinkets or souvenirs. The artwork on display is what I brought back from Italy.”

Allen lived in an apartment in Florence for a month and absorbed all of the local culture available to her.

“On my first trip to Italy, architecture was not a heavy influence,” she said. “On this trip, my second, I studied the architectural designs of the buildings. I began to look at the shapes – at the circles, the squares, the triangles, all the many shapes – and how they were used. I began to look at shapes and how to incorporate them into my own way of painting. It has been very exciting.”

Allen said “Mementos” are not the typical souvenirs but snippets of ideas derived from studying Italian design, primarily of the Renaissance period.

“The approach to composition in this series stems from my ongoing fascination with layering materials in conjunction with my interest in piling random thoughts and time into a single picture plane,” Allen said.

Dismukes graduated magna cum laud from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas with a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art. She earned a master of fine arts degree from East Carolina University.

Her exhibition, “Drive” is a combination exhibition of video, painting and photography.

The images are all re-presentations of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is the most visited national park in the United States. It stretches almost 500 miles along the Appalachian Mountain range in North Carolina and Virginia. The park consists of the roadway, many scenic overlooks and several small looped trails and visitor centers along its length.

“I find the idea of a road-as-a-park compelling because I believe that there are correlations between our experience of it and our national identity,” Dismukes said. “It’s epic but it’s also shallow. In most places, the park is no more than a few feet wider than the road itself. The landscape is set aside for us to engage with and to celebrate as ‘natural,’ but our experience is limited to, an enabled by, our cars.”

The video is a compressed version of the entire northbound, then southbound drive. In a little more than two hours, it records almost 1,000 miles. The panoramic photographs along the wall represent the scenic overlooks and stops Dismukes made along the way. The wall-sized image is a low-resolution bit mapped version of one of the images.

Campbell graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, Calif.

“During this time, I constantly had visions of paintings by the great illustrators of the first half of the 20th century dancing in my head,” he said. “I admired artist such as Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. Some said that Normal Rockwell was an illustrator, not an artist. I didn’t care what he was called. Norman Rockwell could paint like crazy.”

Campbell moved to New York where he worked as an illustrator. His work was seen nationally on magazine covers and in advertisements.

He did a cover of Mary Tyler Moore for “Time” magazine, as well as covers and other work for Readers Digest and many ads for General Electric.

“When I did the cover for ‘Time,’ I thought I was Mr. Cool,” Campbell said, laughing. “I was working and reaping the rewards of success as an illustrator, but something was missing.”

Campbell said he began to realize that the great illustrators were primarily painters.

“Even though I had learned the tricks of the trade in the commercial art world, I felt the need to ‘just paint.’”

Campbell moved home to Troy and “huddled up” in a school of his own making. With the aid of books and videos, he taught himself the art of painting portraits in oil. He is now at home in Troy and at home with his art.

Fenn is a transplanted “local artist.” She grew up in Pittsburgh and benefited early from the art programs in the schools there.

“The art programs were excellent for talented students,” she said. “I was selected to go to the morning classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art School. If you got good, you were promoted to the afternoon classes. Then, if you did good, you were nominated to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology. I got to go there.”

Fenn graduated from Carnegie Tech’s college of fine arts and went to work to earn her “keep.”

“We moved to Alexandria, Virginia and I was fortunate to study at the Torpedo Factory for many years,” Fenn said. “The Torpedo Factory is an art colony and has outstanding artists working there. I was able to study with Diane Tesler and Danni Dawson, who painted the official portrait of Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, and the ‘bad boy” portrait artist, Peter Thrasher. I participated in many juried shows at the Torpedo Factory.”

Now “at home” in Troy, Fenn works mainly in pastels and oils and is primarily a still life and landscape artist. She finds her inspiration in simple things.

“I have one piece titled ‘Dueling Gourds,’ and another titled ‘The Hats of Williamsburg,’” she said. “I was in Williamsburg and saw these hats hanging on a line and just had to paint it. I love painting trees. I do what I call ‘tree portraits.’ I guess you could say that I’m a naturalist artist.”

The four artists will be at the Grand Opening of the Johnson Center for the Arts at 2 p.m. on Sept. 14.

There is no admission charge to the Johnson Center and everyone is encouraged to visit the exhibits of the local artists as well as the Andy Warhol exhibition in the main gallery.