If you visit the Linda Matney Fine Art Gallery at 5435 Richmond Road, you will find that its primary exhibition room is fairly empty. The white walls are dotted with colored circular hangings that oppose the relatively dull concrete floors. However, this aesthetic is intentional. Running through Nov. 16, the exhibit currently on display is “New Works for the New World,” an exploration of measurement, light, space and color by British artist Jo Volley.
“My inspiration for this show surfaced when I began to think about the space between the back of a painting and the surface that it hangs on,” Volley said at the opening reception for the exhibit. “The idea came about after reading a book that I was given. It was a collection of the backs of paintings at the National Gallery in London. Some had smaller, sketch-like paintings on the back; some had inscriptions. I thought about how I could somehow animate that mysterious space that is always ignored. Why isn’t the back of a painting as beautiful as the front? It has another life, another kind of world to explore.”
“New Works for a New World” delves into the relationships between pigments, light and the shadows that the two create when brought together. Each wall hanging has been colored using old-world pigment-creating techniques that Volley employed herself. The introduction of artificial lighting into each circle adds a depth to the seemingly simple pieces by giving them an air of subtle complexity. Volley’s inclusion of soft light and saturated hues helps the exhibition area avoid seeming plain.
Gallery director Lee Matney is excited about his space’s newest artistic endeavor. He expanded on the correlation between Volley’s pieces and the way they are displayed.
“Jo’s exhibit is unique because the gallery space is actually an integral part of the art,” Matney said in an email. “The walls, including the space behind the paintings as well as the lighting, are important here. The exhibit traverses territory beyond what might be obvious to the eye on a casual glance. I have seen first hand with early visitors that this exhibit has slowed down the process of looking at art. The gallery has been transformed into an experience that is much more about the interaction of the art with the space. I hope more viewers will question their own process of looking and recognize how this exhibit challenges their preconceptions.”
Matney also noted the gallery’s relations with the College of William and Mary and particularly with its art students.
“Jo Volley’s installation within the walls of the Linda Matney Gallery reaches out and demands the viewer’s attention,” Kristin Lied Peyton ’12, a former studio art and Latin American Studies major, said. “Volley creates a delicate tension within the room that I could not escape. I was caught between the desire to step forward and look closely at the texture and intricacy of color across each piece/element, yet at the same time stand in the center of the room and take in the full presence of the circular colors and lines against the tall breath of the white walls. She reaches far into the viewer’s sense of sight, demanding contemplation, thought, and reference.”
Volley is from across the Atlantic, so her travels to Williamsburg add even more layers to the show’s sense of adventure and detachment from reality.
“One of the things that’s exciting about the show here is that I made the pieces in my studio in London,” Volley said. “I’m so anxious to see how they show here. How are they going to light up? What are they going to do? I want to see how people react to this funny, disembodied world behind the paintings that I’ve created.”
The Linda Matney Fine Art Gallery was founded to serve as a host for contemporary art in the Williamsburg area. Lee Matney’s decision to showcase “New Works for the New World” was made in an effort to modernize the gallery’s repertoire even further.
“It is a commercial gallery as well as research based contemporary space where we collaborate with guest curators to produce projects we feel have cultural significance,” Matney said. “We try to strike a balance between the commercial and the experimental without undermining the integrity of our purpose. We have branched out into artists from other regions of the United States, as well as international ones, and we feel that the Jo Volley exhibit is a great jumping off point to study other international contemporary projects.”
Matney and Volley both hope that the arresting nature of the exhibit will stir the emotions of all its viewers.
“The pieces are more about what you invest in them and how contemplative they can be rather than their appearance,” Volley said. “I want to draw people’s attention to paying attention.”