Not only can lightning strike the same place twice, there’s artistic proof of its power: 13 works of art by eight women at Poem 88. The gallery, in Atlanta’s Briarcliff and Johnson roads neighborhood, showcases A Whole Tree of Lightning: Women Artists Respond to the Southern Landscape through May 11.
The title comes from one of Eudora Welty’s 1941 short stories, “A Piece of News,” which links the “female psyche and her connection to the landscape,” says owner/curator Robin Bernat.
Poem 88’s space is bright, open, airy and intimate. Nothing pulls your focus from what’s before you. Each of the eight artists has lived primarily in the South and was given free rein to explore the theme. A Whole Tree of Lightning, then, reacquaints and reaffirms their responses to thunderous and disquieting political storms. Expect depth of color, texture and technique, including Susan Cofer’s use of vertical lines only, in color pencil on hand-torn paper, in Tree of Lightning (2019).
Personal memories are on display, too. Cynthia Farnell’s Fig archival prints share two pages from one of her father’s gardening journals. Notice the ingrained “pedigree” and how history and memory perpetuate the future of both nature and people.
JoAnne Paschall’s Book Ends (2019) exemplifies the magnitude that book art can have. She uses an accordion view, which makes the work experiential. Her “painterly marks” — symbolic of geological plutons (igneous rock formed below the Earth’s surface by molten lava) — are seen in detail when the pages are unfolded. One side tells the story of a North Carolina pluton; the other tells the story of a well-known Georgia pluton (Stone Mountain). Book Ends resembles a treasure map, in that its value is found in exploration along the way.
Lisa Tuttle’s devastating Ghosts of Stone Mountain (2019) depicts positive and negative occasions in Stone Mountain’s past. She superimposed a photo negative of a Ku Klux Klan cross-burning atop a recent image of visitors to the mountain. What takes precedence — historical remembrances of evil or present-day joys of a things-to-do attraction?
Judy Henson’s work incorporates found imagery, beginning with two images of the Battle of Atlanta (courtesy of Library of Congress downloads). They were taken in daytime by Civil War photographer G.N. Barnard, but Hanson creates nighttime scenes. Her 2019 Atlanta Embattlements: The Doe and the Oak and Atlanta Embattlements: Yellowhammer use her own asynchronous photographs in a way that evokes “spirit animals.”
Energy expresses how differently Southern landscapes manifest in this show. Corrine Colarusso’s 2019 paintings One Lit Chamber, House of Reeds and Double Cascade depict colorful abstractions of “tide pool vegetation.” Nancy VanDevender shares an “interior and psychological” aspect of the Southern landscape, using pen and marker in Seven Rooms (2019). It features the floor plan of her grandmother’s Mississippi home along with objects found in each room there, including a porcelain duck, silver butter knife and artificial grapes. The paisley-looking designs are said to reflect linoleum floor “rug patterns.”
In Memorial Day (2018), Sharon Shapiro disrupts Southern societal stereotypes of female friendship/sisterhood. We see two women — one black, one white — relaxing poolside. Their natural confidence is reflected in Shapiro’s meticulous details and shadows.
In all, A Whole Tree of Lightning reveals a strong sense of place. To these artists, it seems second nature.