To several artists, peace is embodied in Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism. Greg Kelley's very literal "Blackboard Buddha" is a viewer-participation piece in which a cutout-slate seated Buddha invites observers to mark the board with the available chalk or wipe it clean with an eraser. For Kelley, peace is deeply personal and subjective, allowing his viewer to convey their thoughts through action. The very transience of the chalk connects to the overall theme of vanitas. Life, art and beauty can all be wiped away; a higher spirituality, however, is eternal.
The tranquility that comes through enlightenment is relayed even more powerfully by Timothy McClellan's exquisite abstract panels. His "Karma Series," comprising three square and rectangular panels, stacked vertically on the wall like a yasti (or spiritual connecting rod) on a Buddhist stupa, seems to impart a numbing serenity through pure color and surface texture. Reminiscent of Rothko's color-field works, McClellan's mixed-media blocks are less concerned with emotion and more interested in the object's materiality as a touchstone for transcendence.
Other artists like Greg Carbo and Pam Shelor connect peace to the everyday comforts of home, sanctuary and peace of mind. Particularly striking is Carbo's "Comfort," a projector screen that rises out of its case on the floor to signal a zone of comfort. The typically white movie screen has been replaced with a black mesh screen of the window variety. Cut out in bold letters is the word "COMFORT." While the screen does evoke tranquility in its reference to lazy summer days lounging on a screened porch, there is also a tension in its caged visage and forced message.
This tension is also played out more subtly in Pam Shelor's "Sanctuary," a monotype on paper of a profile of a bird. Its beauty and comfort lie in the soft, muted tones of blue, ocher and bronze, and its lack of superfluous detail. Yet, this bird is not a dove of peace, but rather a raven, a traditional symbol of mortality and death.
The bliss that peace can bring is lusciously communicated in Susan Legge's color photographs. Her "Reverie Series" is four photographs composed of luminous colors that almost sting the eye. These close-ups of aqua blue water with colorful flower petals floating on their surface vibrate with joy and whimsy. The petals also link to the typical Dutch symbol for the fleeting nature of both beauty and life. Thus, Legge's photographs contain both exuberance and poignancy that so clearly embody the notion of vanitas.
We seem to be in an age where peace, in all its manifestations, is a vital aspect of our sanity and our humanity. In a world full of conflict, strife, complacency and artificiality, peace, as McLeod's curatorial statement and these works demonstrate, is as relevant and, perhaps, as elusive as ever. S"Beyond the Vanitas: The Consideration of Peace as a Subject" is on display through May 11 at the Gumenick Family Gallery at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road. 261-6200