Art gallery hosts monthly showing of new exhibitions in downtown Richmond

Art Works gallery features Michael O’Neal’s ‘New Work’ exhibition. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Chloe Hawkins, Contributing Writer

Art Works, a full-service art center located in the Manchester District, opened three new exhibitions Friday night, displaying the art of different stories and backgrounds.

The main exhibition features VCUarts painting and printmaking alum Michael O’Neal’s “New Work” located in the Jane Sandelin Gallery, the concept of which came about after an accidental water spill on his canvas. 

“While cleaning up the water I noticed the defined streak of smeared paint,” O’Neal said. “I then dived even deeper and used milk to create more canvas art.” 

O’Neal said he gets his ideas organically and practices experimental methods of making abstract paintings — there are mixes of many colors in his paintings including blues and greens, reds and browns and incorporations of splatter paint. 

“The inspiration behind my exhibition name actually comes from one of my favorite jazz albums,” O’Neal said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve done this.” 

Art Works owner Glenda Kotchish said the creation of the gallery was to originally provide open spaces for artists, but its current goal is to also be accessible to the entire public — both locally and internationally.

Another main priority for Art Works, with 80 artist studios and four galleries, is the artists themselves, according to Kotchish.

“We want people to be happy, if they have problems we want to hear about, fix it and also hear their ideas as a whole,” Kotchish said. 

Along with Kotchish, the responsibilities of the gallery are also given to VCUarts alum and gallery director Jessie Boyland, who started at Art Works in 2004. 

Boyland said part of her job is to seek out new artists, act as jury during open call for artists, install exhibitions and ultimately choose what will be displayed in the gallery, as well as staying up to date with what people want to see. 

“Recently I’ve had to bring in new contemporary art to match what people want,” Boyland said. “In general we try to respond to customers and so I’ve had to focus on finding colorful, abstract pieces.”

Boyland said she prides herself on being “artist-focused.” Artists often have their first shows at Art Works and the staff loves to help them set up their exhibitions, according to Boyland.

Art Works has been offering free admission since it opened and will continue to, according to Boyland.

“We’re open free to the public to make art accessible to not only purchase, but, see,” Boyland said. “We don’t want that barrier to be there in the community.”

Artist Corinne Schofield’s “Fold: Small Images” is also on display at Art Works. Schofield said she got back into the creative process after seeing her friend display their art at Art Works a few years ago. She said it’s “wonderful” to have her artwork be seen for the first time, and it is a “life-long dream.” 

“I feel validated as an artist because it’s never been shown to anybody,” Schofield said. “I’ve given away art as gifts, but, you know, it’s not the same.”

The inspiration for the detailed drawings in “Fold: Small Images” come from the idea of feng shui, the balancing of energies within a structure, according to Schofield. 

“Where your intention goes, that’s where the energy flows,” Schofield said. “The art that I’m creating is very specific to bagua.”

Bagua, a Chinese principle, relates to five elements of feng shui: water, wood, fire, earth and metal, according to the National Geographic.

One of Schofield’s paintings incorporates two areas of bagua by mixing sunsets with trees. The sunset represents the fire element and the trees represent the water element, according to Schofield. 

(left to right) ‘Heart Beginnings,’ ‘Blue Webbing’ and ‘Wrapping’ present Corinne Schofield’s colored pencil pieces in Art Works exhibition. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Carolyn Pitts, a former VCUarts art history student, said she has been involved with Art Works for approximately four years.

Her exhibition “The End in Mind” examines death and living life to the fullest every day. It focuses on “memento mori,” which means “remember your death” in Latin, according to Pitts.

“I’ve been trying to show that death is inevitable, but it can also be beautiful,” Pitts said. “It’s not something to be scared of.”

Pitts said inspiration for her art stems from the recent death of her mother. In the last weeks Pitts was caring for her, she said she realized the beauty in the dead flowers given to her mother. 

The flowers are displayed with colorful, vibrant backgrounds in her art. Pitts said the vibrant colors and spots represent different people’s energies. 

“Being with my mom the moment she took her last breath I realized that death isn’t the scariest thing, it’s a transition of energy,” Pitts said. “I’m a big believer in energy and that we all are energetic beings.”

 The exhibitions opened on Feb. 25 and are available until March 19.

Carolyn Pitts uses photography and digital art for ‘Dance Party.’ Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

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