Artist Leigh Suggs is having a busy fall.
She has a solo exhibition "This or That is Here, or There" currently at Reynolds Gallery, a group exhibition "Paper Planes" at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts that just closed and another group show, "I> <You> <We" which opens Dec. 7 at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. And she squeezed in time to get married to furniture-maker Daniel Rickey.
Life isn't always this good though, she's quick to point out.
"I have my days of feeling like I'm done. You know, nobody wants my work," Suggs says. "Because there's a financial reality. You have to still pay rent, pay bills, and keep the lights on and eat food. It ebbs and flows. But I think my business background working for [Light Art and Design in Chapel Hill, North Carolina] and having those years of experience seeing the ebb and flow helps me realize, if I just work hard to keep my shit together, keep things organized —that's all progressively moving things forward."
Another thing that helps is the community of artists she works with locally and nationally. That's the focus of the exhibition at the Visual Arts Center, which pairs her work alongside art by Emmy Bright of Detroit and Jessica Heike of Kansas City. The three met in 2009 when they took a class at Penland School of Crafts in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, with Colorado artist Helen Hiebert.
"Our desks happened to be near each other," Suggs says. "We spent the whole two weeks laughing and joking and, over the year, just sort of kept in touch."
The friendship eventually led to the desire for an exhibition, so the three descended again upon Penland, spending several days in the winter of 2016 and 2017 making, responding and critiquing each other's work, which will be on display with new work by them at the center for two weeks with the input of curator Lauren Ross. Suggs admits that with this collaboration a major part of it is the artists' just "keeping each other going [artistically]."
Nevertheless, Suggs seems to be thriving in her practice that combines drawings and sculptures with her signature laborious cut-paper process. Her solo exhibition at Reynolds features new work with the exception of four pieces titled "Reticulating Lines" (2017). While the unframed "Making a Chance" (2018) demands attention because of its large scale and prominent placement, it is the two cyanotype collages, "The Background" (2017) and "The Background III" (2018), and sister pieces, "Own Place I" (2018) and "Peripheral Middle" (2018), that are the most evocative.
The cyanotypes are a new medium for Suggs that she first explored while teaching at Penland in 2017 and working alongside another artist, Hillary Waters Fayle, who also makes work with light-sensitive paper. "Peripheral Middle" is two overlapping sheets of paper cut into a series of connected discs that have pierced horizontal lines. Those pierced lines were then dipped repeatedly into paint to form "Own Place I," which was inspired by Suggs' desire "to make a painting without using a paintbrush."
The labor in Suggs' work is one aspect and then there's the notion of seeing and optical illusions. But what about that which is not seen?
Often in Suggs' work there are small moments that get shrouded in the final product: the reverse-painted backing that emits a mysterious glow in "Golden Hour" (2017), the pieced-together panels that create a horizon line in "Peripheral Middle," or the cut and collaged lines that belie their photographic beginning in "The Background." In her best work, Suggs asks visitors to consider the quiet moments of physical and optical distortion, the overlooked, and she magnifies these interruptions for the viewer interested in giving a long look.
"I'm just making things and hoping that someone will want them," remarks Suggs. "You have places like Reynolds and VisArts that are willing to put their money into an artist to help them because they believe in them and have clients that believe in them." S
"I> <You> <We" opens Dec. 7 at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. For information, see visarts.org.