Buried in the back of the Henry Clay Hofheimer Library, the The Neil Britton Art Gallery is bursting with life. Artwork inspired by local artists from both the New Energy of Norfolk (NEON) Arts District and ViBe Creative District rests in an exhibit that the college art department has named “A Feast of Languages.”
Batten Associate Professor of Art and Coordinator of Art Exhibitions John Rudel said that he wanted the exhibit to represent the strength of local artists around Hampton Roads.
“I wanted to highlight the quality and the variety of individuals who had spoken up and lent their voice to the chorus of a culture of creators,” Rudel said.
Virginia Beach and Norfolk both offer a colorful display of public art in their art districts and Virginia Wesleyan College sits right at the dividing line of the cities. VWC therefore has the unique opportunity to represent artists from both sides.
“A Feast of Languages” is borrowed from Shakespeare’s “Loves Labor’s Lost” because it communicates the limitations of language. In the same vein, the art department wanted to represent how in a community of strong diversity and talent, it is vital that artists are able to transcend the limits of communication through art.
“This exhibition is in no way a comprehensive view of the true ‘feast of language’ that is available in coastal Virginia, but rather an opportunity to highlight some noble artists who have been important to the feast,” Rudel said.
Artist and Virginia Wesleyan alumni ALXMCHL was one of six artists selected to show his artwork at the exhibit. His mural MTHRSON covers an entire wall of the exhibit, and is a colorful offspring of the cubist movement.
ALXMCHL played baseball at VWC from 2007 to 2011 and still lives and works in Hampton Roads, pursuing art as a passion.
“I was given the opportunity to paint a mural in the arts district, that was my largest public art piece. From there, I just kept getting commission work for more and more murals and here we are with this one,” ALXMCHL said.
He explained that his journey as an artist was inspired by his mother and her own artistic influence. His mural at the Neil Britton Art Gallery contains many inverted “V” shapes that are broken up segments of the letter “M” to symbolize his mother’s name, Michelle.
“She was really my number one fan,” ALXMCHL said.
He has art displayed in the NEON district, which stretches from the Chrysler Museum all the way down to the intersection of Granby Street and Virginia Beach Boulevard.
“I think we’re very much trying to show that art is not dead, it’s very much alive. It’s up to you to get out there and get your piece seen, and just keep working,” ALXMCHL said.
Students from various academic disciplines came to the opening reception to hear about what inspired each of the unique artists.
One observer was Maya Inge-Arrington, a freshman at VWC. She heard about the exhibit from her women and gender studies professor. She is a Norfolk local and expressed her excitement about the Norfolk arts district and its ability to showcase local artists who might not be recognized otherwise. She said she was drawn to the event by the unique title and was excited that the college would represent the diverse culture of her hometown.
“Norfolk is really diverse. You can drive down one street and see the mermaids and down another and see nothing but basketball courts… I feel like art can bring a community together,” Inge-Arrington said.
Other students at the reception were also excited about the opportunities that both districts are offered
Senior art major Cori Hailey was excited to explore all of the different art forms that “A Feast of Languages” showcased. The exhibit included different medias, 3D printing, lights and abstract art, which Hailey is attracted to as an art major because they are so untraditional and different from the art forms that she has studied in her classes.
“Being in a metropolitan place has helped me to explore more art forms. It’s nice being in an urban area. I’ve had a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise” Hailey said.
“I had four pieces in a show at the Art Institute at Town Center (Virginia Beach). That’s not an opportunity I’d have at home. Plus, artists flock to urban areas so it’s not hard to get in touch with someone new,” Hailey said.
Hailey also mentioned the importance of art being displayed around both cities to encourage younger students who might be apprehensive to pursue art.
“It’s important that the arts are being encouraged because too many programs are being cut across the country. Having artists pop up all over Hampton Roads is really important and it shows kids that even if your art program is getting cut, you can still do what you love whether it’s performing arts or visual arts. It’s important to have a public space for it,” Hailey said.
(Photo: Becca Lazzeri | Marlin Chronicle)