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Life In This Dark Time Work by Trisha Orr


This catalog has been published in conjunction with the exhibition

Life In This Dark Time

Director’s Acknowledgements: Mary Baldwin University’s support of Hunt Gallery enables an ongoing art dialogue through the exhibition of contemporary art with a strong conceptual and/or aesthetic grounding. I would like to express particular appreciation to Dinah Ryan, Professor of English at Principia College, and Paul Ryan, Professor of Art at Principia College and MBU Professor Emeritus of Art, for their vital roles in the success of this exhibition and catalog. Gretchen Long, Creative Director and Principal of Queen City Creative, enthusiastically embraced this project without hesitation in spite of a packed schedule. Roxanne Moskowitz and Paige Grimshaw of Mid Valley Press, thank you for always being receptive to my questions and critiques of color proofs. Above all, thank you, Trisha Orr.

Jim R. Sconyers, Jr., MFA Associate Professor of Art Director of Hunt Gallery The Rotunda-6

cover image: Bagging at Krogers


The Rotunda-4

Life In This Dark Time Work by Trisha Orr Hunt Gallery Department of Art and Art History Mary Baldwin University Staunton, Virginia October 1 – 26, 2018


Trisha Orr’s Beloveds and Others: Navigating Dangerous Times By Dinah Ryan They said to me: here Is the beloved And here is the world: You have to choose… How do we know We can’t have both? Would that be greed, When the two are one?  Gregory Orr, Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved

To live in “dangerous times,” as former President Barack Obama characterized our age in a speech at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign on September 7, is to live in a period where unnoticed forces that have nevertheless been gathering over time burst into view, threatening to destabilize diversity, solidarity, and mutual respect within communities. As separate reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), and the FBI all note, since the 2016 election hate crimes in the United States have been rising, contributing to an increasing sense of personal and

public anxiety about the future. To live in Virginia, with its long history of racism (consider, for example, the state’s official resistance to Brown vs. Board of Education), and to live in Charlottesville, with its entrenched socio-economic and racial stratification, is to be already situated on fault lines. To have lived in Charlottesville in August 2017 when white supremacist, neoNazi, antisemitic, and white separatist groups descended on the city in the Unite the Right rally is to reside in one of the vortices in which the violent eruption of apparently quiescent forces can upend hope and deliver the struggles of “life in dark times.” Trisha Orr’s paintings and works on paper in Life in These Dark Times reveal the walls of public and private spaces as permeable; and, her works invite viewers to examine this human porousness through both the closeup of familiarity and the more remote view of public events. The bridges between these vantage points are the works in the Beloveds and Others series that occupy such public spaces as parks and grocery stores. If both private and public bodies—the body of home, family,

and friends and the body politic—are vulnerable, the answer is not in a descent into violence, which rips the Other to shreds in an attempt to preserve the self, but in an awareness of that vulnerability of both self and other, of the loved and the unfamiliar. The Charlottesville Burning series initially recalls Mark Tobey’s white writing paintings, and it is fitting that the horror of the violent upheaval of the Charlottesville events would emerge in a tangled web of gestural, calligraphic marks. Tobey, a Baha’i believing in the essential unity of humanity, produced a harmony within his overall compositions, even when the paintings have anxious-seeming titles like Catalyst (1958) or Trembling Space (1961). Their agitation is resolved by a harmonious push-pull balancing potential disjunctions in a vibrating whole—much in the same way that citizens might hope for negotiation between opposing forces in the civil discourse of the body politic, which might lead to fairness and equality. Orr’s Charlottesville Burning works on paper won’t relinquish their tensions. Their agitated, anxious marks lend a


ruthless activity to the picture plane so that the eye moves ceaselessly around the composition. These works on paper refuse to settle into overall patterns that might suggest the balancing of countervailing forces. Rather, the gestural calligraphy coalesces into figurative narratives set in particular civic spaces—a public parking garage and the lawns extending around the Rotunda of the University of Virginia. The compositions are, like Orr’s figurative paintings in the Beloveds and Others series, muscular, with a powerful interplay underlying the massed conglomeration of things that come together in each work. The marks suggest the glistening tangled string of human fascia, that gelatinous stuff connecting all parts of the body, and they somehow congeal into horrifying figures that intrude and dance upon the civic spaces represented here, as well as upon the tender bodies of the innocent human beings that ordinarily occupy them. Figures writhe on the surfaces of these raw images of the torchlit march at the University of Virginia’s Rotunda and of the Market Street Parking Garage where at least four men violently

The Sleep of Reason


attacked De Andre Harris on August 12, 2017. In The Rotunda (7), forearms of alt-right demonstrators jab upward across the foreground, flickering torches in their upraised hands. These forms appear to be rising, transitioning from a diagonal forearm on the left to a pure dominant vertical on the right— mirroring the desires of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally to assert white supremacy. Behind them the neoclassical form of Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda appears as a spectral, gleaming scrawl that nevertheless assumes a fixed, symmetrical position, both in design and placement on the picture plane. Who or what haunts us, the viewer might ask in 2018, one year after Charlottesville and one year before the commemoration of the 400th year since the first African slave’s arrival on North American soil in colonial Virginia? Are the democratic freedoms proffered by Jefferson’s words alive? Are they

Poet in the Morning

living for every human being or are they being recast once again as exclusive to a select few? If “the body of the beloved/Which is the world” (to quote the poet Gregory Orr) is at least in part the body politic, then the Charlottesville Burning series suggests that the connective tissue, the fascia, of this body has turned against itself and is eating itself from the inside out, as with a cancer. The deep interior question in Orr’s work is the question of the vitality of human connection, of a collective body. In the Charlottesville Burning series this body is in disarray, its fragility palpable. Thus the viewer turns to the domesticity of the Beloveds and Others as from a nightmare, wary and jarred and worried. As if to underscore this unsettled quality, diagonals move through every painting in the Beloveds and Others

Dinner at Al’s

series, explicit as shape and line or implicit as the psychological line of gaze and gesture. They sometimes function almost as one-point perspective—a table jutting through the center of a painting like a blue road littered with dinnerware in Dinner at Al’s or a conveyor belt of groceries in Bagging at Krogers—and sometimes lead the viewer across an oblique horizon as in The Bridge, where a dark, almost nonobjective arc bends across the center of the painting toward the vertical figures of a man and woman who occupy the right-hand third of the picture plane. The pair look away from the bridge into the distance perpendicular to it. She wears sunglasses, her shoulders stoop. His eyes appear briefly closed as if in a moment of resignation. This dark bridge asserts itself across an airy landscape like a gash in the earth. It is impossible to tell whether it is a metaphorical path into an obscure future or an intrusion. In any event, it is out of reach because, despite its visual proximity and weight, it occupies a distant space in the depicted landscape; and, the structure is broken, ending abruptly high above the earth at its abutment. It is no bridge. The figures in The Bridge pause in the foreground, turned both outward and inward while the dark passage leading to a remote place, time, or future— whether safe or unsafe—remains truncated, looming but unavailable. Yet the painting breaths in this pause,


in dark times, but the structures of empathy and attention hold steady. There is no grief without love. And with love—and its capacity for grief—there can be no intentional harm, no plowing through a crowd of vulnerable living bodies with an invulnerable metal body (a car). No beating another with the broken plank of a parking garage barrier. No screaming for an/other to leave.

The Night Reader

The Bridge

asking the viewer to notice such precariousness. The psychological line in Orr’s paintings, the gestures and gazes that lead the viewer through the human interchanges vacillate between tight encounters and open gazes that ricochet between figures only to veer off the picture plane or boomerang in a new direction. In Bagging at Krogers no one looks at anyone else, yet the figures’ solitary gazes within the social setting reveal the motion of the human project of disconnecting and connecting. This project is constantly enacted in the Beloved and Others series, veering, ping-ponging, bouncing, settling, and sorting. Like Damien Hirst’s Theories,

Models, Methods, Approaches, Assumptions, Results and Findings (2000), a nonobjective work of glass and metal in which air blowers keep ping-pong balls in seemingly chaotic motion until, the blowers stopping, the balls descend into rest, Orr’s paintings are similarly about the relentless and demanding act of paying attention to the ceaseless interplay of human life. The seemingly domestic subjects of Beloveds and Others are in fact tied to the public experiences of Charlottesville Burning. These works suggest that each of us is responsible for the same act of tender attention—and lines in her works, ever moving, ever playing against each other, lead the viewer to this task. The world tilts, especially

The domestic structures and public spheres of the Beloveds and Others may shift along diagonal planes, redistributing and restless. But the figures depicted in them navigate. Their gazes and gestures follow paths of gentle interaction and they share spaces as they remain stable within them—eating, working, talking, holding the baby, pausing, cooking, bagging or ringing up the groceries. Fellow inhabitants, they daily, bravely share vulnerability, grief, and love, alternating between the intimate love of family and friends and the respectful, impartial love of kindly encountering an/other in public, simply as one ordinary human to another. Like Hirst’s Theories, Models, Methods…things are always in motion, but as the motion dies down, things flow into order and rest. They don’t fall apart and are not torn apart. _________________________________ Dinah Ryan is Professor of English at Principia College and a contributing editor for Art Papers Magazine.


Life In This Dark Time By Trisha Orr

The two groups of paintings in this show (‘Beloveds and Others’ and “Charlottesville Burning’) could easily be taken for the work of two different artists with completely different aesthetics. It could seem as if there’s little connection or bridge between them. They present two different worlds through the lens of two different aesthetics and artistic strategies. The fact that I’m the artist that produced both groups during overlapping time frames seems almost schizoid even to me. For most of my life as an artist I’ve chosen to work representationally and to focus on the order and beauty of the world as it strikes my senses. It was a choice I made as early as my teenage years when it felt like a way of dealing with trauma in my background by focusing on what I found to be affirmative and lifeenhancing—a way of creating a stable world. Working in this way, among other things, has helped me to center myself as an artist and a person. The philosopher Phillip Wheelwright once spoke about certain situations

having more “ontological tenderness” than others. I like to think that this “tenderness of being in the world” is present in some of the scenes I paint and to bring that forward onto the canvas is one of my ambitions. This mode of art-making was severely challenged by the events of last August in Charlottesville (where I’ve lived for over forty years). The torch-lit, alt-right march across the UVa campus, the racist violence and rioting downtown the next day disturbed me deeply. I felt as a citizen that I wanted to respond to these horrible events. I felt that as an artist my usual mode of representing wasn’t adequate, wasn’t sufficient to the situations I’d witnessed. After some hesitation, I took the risk of responding in an expressionist mode—I felt this choice was forced on me by the nature of those events. My sense is that expressionism is a mode that can expose and dramatize the demonic in certain human behaviors— acts of hatred, violence, destruction. To work authentically in an expressionist mode, for me, means that I must let myself be destabilized by the intensity of the chaos and horror. It’s painful.

To render it with an accurate intensity and dramatic focus I felt I had to open myself to the worst aspects of what it is to be human. I didn’t like making these pieces, but I felt compelled to (as citizen and artist) and the experience confirmed what I believe and what I’ve witnessed in the work of such artists as Goya (his “Disasters of War”) and Leon Golub—that visual art can engage this material and make a meaningful and moral statement about it. My earliest paintings of complicated still-lifes represented a kind of meditation on chaos and beauty—how even a chaotic jumble of embroidered cloth, flowers, and transparent or figured vases could become beautiful if it was stopped and held steady in the moment of the painting. With my beloveds, I feel like I’m picking a moment out of the flow of human intimacy and interaction and distilling it into a stop-time scene that I and the viewer can contemplate. Lifted up in this way, these ordinary moments become something stable. Thomas Hardy writes in a poem of his old age about an ordinary,


remembered childhood moment when his family gathered by the living room fireplace: “blessings emblazoned that day. Everything glowed with a gleam/ But we were looking away.” In these paintings I try to look toward not “away”—and lift them up to be explored as the ordinary blessings and dramas I feel that they are. I’m drawn to situations of interiority or reverie—moments when people turn inward even when they are engaged in social settings. I work from drawings and notes made from cell phone photos, and make new drawings and additional notes before each painting session. The earliest of these paintings are about my dog, Georgie Girl. Later, I moved on to paintings of family members and friends. Most recently, I’ve been interested in painting people that work at my local supermarket. With the family groups, it’s a matter of painting the faces I love and their gazes—either looking at each other or looking inside themselves, or both at the same

time. I find these compositions

I think of the family and friend paintings

often present a “safe circle.”

and the supermarket paintings

In the supermarket paintings, I start with the simple fact that I think supermarkets are amazing spaces

as complementary— an intention highlighted by the fact that frequently my family members (husband,

visually—their aisles and checkout

daughter) put in an appearance

counters stacked with products and

in the supermarket paintings.

all the shoppers moving through either purposefully or in a state of mild distraction, and the personnel

I wish I could bridge these modes— the beloveds and the Charlottesville

(who become familiar faces and

burning. Instead, I’ve decided that

personalities if you shop in the same

to represent their lack of connection

supermarket for decades, as I have)

and lack of shared artistic vocabulary

presiding with agile detachment over

is itself a symbol of a strange political

the whole drama.

and cultural situation we experience

I’m fascinated by the strange cornucopia of nourishment that is part of the American story for many people and for the middle class in

now in America. Two different visions discordantly juxtaposed. At this point I can’t reconcile these visions, either in my life or in my art. All I can do is to

developed countries. Supermarkets,

dramatize each vision to the best of my

when you shift away from the people

ability in the mode that seems most

inhabiting the scene, represent a chaos

adequate and appropriate to its nature.

of abundance that is both exhilarating and disturbing. In contrast, the scenes

The truth of this moment in our

of my family and friends gathered

society seems to me a nightmare

around dinner tables or in kitchens

eruption in the midst of a dream of

bring the story of how we live into

tranquility. Maybe neither nightmare

a quieter, more intimate focus.

or dream is true, but both are real.


Artist’s Bio Trisha Orr was born in 1951 in Paterson, New Jersey. As a teenager she studied at the Art Students’ League. She attended Sarah Lawrence College, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Michigan (B.A.). Later professional education included the New York Studio School. Her paintings have been exhibited regionally and nationally. Her shows have been reviewed in such publications as Art in America, the New York Times and Art Papers. Portfolios of her work have been published in Georgia Review, American Artist, Meridian, and Iris among others. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts mid-Atlantic regional fellowship in painting. She has lived in Charlottesville, Virginia since 1975. She is married to the poet Gregory Orr and has two grown daughters, Eliza and Sophia, and a beloved dog. She divides her time between Charlottesville and Keene Valley in the Adirondack Mountains.

The Rotunda-5

TRISHA ORR

Born: Paterson, New Jersey, 1951

EDUCATION: New York Studio School (1976-78) University of Michigan (B.A. summa cum laude, 1974) Rhode Island School of Design (1971-72) Sarah Lawrence College (1969-1971) Art Student’s League, NYC (1965-69)

AWARDS: 1997 Goya Girl Press, Inaugural Print Competition. 1994 MidAtlantic/NEA Regional Fellowship in Painting.Individual Artists Project Grant, Virginia Commission for the Arts. Juror’s Award, “Select: A Regional Show,” Sawhill Gallery, James Madison University 1974 Phi Beta Kappa Society, University of Michigan

SOLO EXHIBITIONS: 2018 Life in this Dark Time, Hunt Gallery, Mary Baldwin College 2016 Art For Friends, ‘beloveds’, 624 Gallery, Charlottesville 2014 Les Yeux du Monde, Still Life and Other Subjects 2012 Staniar Gallery, Washington and Lee University 2011 Painting the Word/Wording the Paint, The Bridge, Charlottesville 2011 Emily Couric Cancer Center, Charlottesville, VA

2008 Old School Square Cultural Arts Center, DelRay Beach, Florida, Poem-Paintings 2006 Les Yeux du Monde, Charlottesville, VA, “Visions of Eden” (reviewed in ART PAPERS) 2003 Les Yeux du Monde, Charlottesville, VA, “Eurydice Paintings” 2001 Piedmont Virginia Community College, “This Dazzling Cosmos, This Dazzling Chaos” 2000 Jack Meier Gallery, Houston University of Virginia Art Museum, “Lyric Conjunctions” collaboration with poet Gregory Orr. 1998 Lizan Tops Gallery, Easthampton, New York (reviewed in the NY Times) Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Newport News, Va. 1997 Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, Virginia 1996 Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery, New York. 1995 Fayerweather Gallery, University of Virginia, (two person) Main Street Gallery, Nantucket, Massachusetts 1994 Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery, New York (reviewed in Art in America) 1993 Parkersburg Art Center, Parkersburg, West Va. 1986 Piedmont Virginia Community College, Charlottesville, Va 1985, 1987 James Hunt Barker Gallery, Nantucket, Mass. 1976 Ceres Street Gallery, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS: 2011 “The Dancer and the Dance,” University of Virginia Art Museum 2009 “Open City,” New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, juried by Sean Scully 2006 “Love Letter Invitational,” Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville 2004 “Study,” Roebling Hall Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, curated by James Hyde 2003 “Vulnerability,” New York Studio School, curated by Bill Jenkins 2001 “Representing Representation V,” Arnot Museum, Elmira NY 2000 “The Image as Text,” Sawhill Gallery, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. 1999 JJ Brookings Gallery, San Francisco Jack Meir Gallery, Houston 1998 “Commonwealth Collects,” Center for Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach JJ Brookings, San Francisco 1997 “Inaugural Print Portfolio Exhibition,” Goya Girls Press, Mill Center, Baltimore, Maryland. “A Palette in a Pen’s World,” Georgia Museuum of Art, Athens, Georgia. “Twelth Anniversity Exhibition,” Perlow Gallery, New York “The Still Life Show” NationsBank Gallery, Richmond, Va. 1996 “Garden of Earthly Delights,” Hecksher Museum, Huntington, New York. “Women in the Visual Arts,” Hollins College, curated by Sondra Freckleton 1995 Lizan-Tops Gallery, Easthampton, N.Y. “Flower Paintings” Delaware Museum, Members’ Gallery Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery, New York Members Gallery, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. National Council of Jewish Women’s Groups, “Focus on Art” Loring Gallery, Sheffield, Mass. Peninsula Fine Arts, Newport News, Virginia. 1994 “The Unstill Still Life,” University of Rhode Island.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Eros and Illness, David Morris, 2017 Harvard University Press “Artist Trisha Orr Paints Herself Out of a Corner” review by Sarah Sargent, C’ville Weekly, 2014 RATTLE, Summer 2008, Tribute to Visual Poetry, portfolio of poem-paintings SMARTISH PACE, cover, spring 2009 HOW BEAUTIFUL THE BELOVED, cover ART PAPERS, July/August 2006, review by Dinah Ryan “RePresenting Representation V,” Arnot Art Museum Publication, catalogue of exhibition, 2001. MERIDIAN: Portfolio of paintings and cover. Spring, 2000. NEW AMERICAN PAINTING XXI, Open Studios Press, Spring, 1999. ART IN AMERICA, July, 1995, “Review of Exhibitions,” review by Gerrit Henry. New York Times, “Subjective and Abstract Flow in Many Directions,” review by Phyllis Braff, May 3, 1998. IRIS (cover and essay), Summer, 1998. GEORGIA REVIEW, Summer 1995, “A Portfolio of Paintings” (eight color plates and cover, essay)

AMERICAN ARTIST “Working with Complicated Still Lives: The Painting of Trisha Orr,” Dec. 1992 “Made at the Mill” Catalogue of Inaugural Exhibition of Prints, Goya Girls Press, Baltimore, 1997. NEW AMERICAN PAINTING VIII, Open Studios Press (51 painters from the Mid-Atlantic region), 1996. “Women in the Visual Arts,” 1996, Catalogue, essay by Sondra Freckleton. Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, 1996, Catalogue of Fellowship Recipients PLOUGHSHARES (cover), Winter 1996 OIL HIGHLIGHTS: STILL LIFE, Collector’s Series, American Artist Publications, 1995. “The Unstill Still Life: An Exhibition of Contemporary Painting in Oil” Judith Tolnick, 1994. “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Ann De Pietro, Exhibition catalogue, Heckscher Museum “Art That Spins Into Control” The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket, Mass., August 10, 1995. “Excess is Success in Orr’s Rich Garden” Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia, Feb. 2, 1995. ARTS INK, a publication of the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Volume 4, number 3.

PANELS AND INTERVIEWS AND MISCELLANEOUS: 2012 Listening/Looking As Collaboration, The Medical Hour Series, University of Virginia 2011 Paintings the Word/Wording the Paint, sponsored by the Virginia Festival of the Book and the University of Virginia Art Museum 2007 Collaborating the Beloved-a Poet and a Painter Under the Same Roof, Mary Baldwin College 2006 Maier Museum, Lynchburg, VA2003 Created paintings for stage set of opera ORPHEO (in this production Eurydice is a painter, the paintings illustrate her transition into mental illness), Piedmont Community College, Charlottesville, Va 2000 “The Lyric Moment in Painting and Poetry” University of Virginia Art Museum. 2003 ”Eurydice as Artist- Transforming the Myth”- panel discussion, Les Yeux du Monde 1997 “The Palette in a Pen’s World” panel discussion, Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia. 1996 “Sister Talk,” radio interview with Ann Lane, Department of Women’s Studies, University of Virginia.

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS:

Baltimore Museum of Art Emily Couric Cancer Center University of Virginia School of Nursing, Claude Moore Nursing Education Building

TEACHING:

Semester at Sea, Spring 2008, Drawing I and Drawing II, under the auspices of University of Virginia


Market Street Garage-2

Hunt Gallery Department of Art and Art History Mary Baldwin University Staunton, Virginia

Profile for Mary Baldwin University

Life in This Dark Time: Work by Trisha Orr  

A catalog to accompany the exhibition, Life In This Dark Time by Trisha Orr, on view from October 1 to 26, 2018, at Mary Baldwin’s Hunt Gall...

Life in This Dark Time: Work by Trisha Orr  

A catalog to accompany the exhibition, Life In This Dark Time by Trisha Orr, on view from October 1 to 26, 2018, at Mary Baldwin’s Hunt Gall...

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