A gallery opening is slated for Aug. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center in Yadkinville for artist Cory Willingham. This will be the third time Willingham’s work has been on display at the Welborn Gallery in the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center.
“I’m so excited to be returning,” Willingham said.
In May of 2014, Willingham and her husband Nick van der Does, a glassblower, had a joint exhibit in the gallery. Many of the paintings Willingham exhibited that year were of nests with eggs in them.
“Turns out, we got pregnant not long after that exhibit,” Willingham said. “Maybe in my creative subconscious I knew we had something in store for us.”
Willingham said their daughter, Lucy Eloise, keeps them very busy but is their “best artist effort yet.” She not only loves her mother’s paintings, but enjoys painting as well. The family resides in Houston, Texas.
The new exhibit featuring Willingham’s work is entitled, “Five Facets: Variations of Contemporary Realism.” Willingham called it something of a “failed experiment,” but one that helped her find and embrace her own unique style of art.
“My original concept, which was hatched over 10 years ago, was to create what I dubbed the ‘Faux Show’; I intended to invent five different fictional artists (complete with different artist statements and photos), and displaying five completely different styles/subject matters,” Willingham said. “I have always taken issue with the fact that artists must somehow create a singular, signature brand — a very recognizable, signature style — in order to be commercially successful.”
Willingham then set out to invent these different artists in order to paint in different styles.
“By creating different fictional artists, I could capitalize on the fact that I actually liked to paint a wide variety of subjects and in different styles. So, over six months ago, when I started working on this body of work, I started creating these imaginary artists — making up names, fleshing out their back-stories, enjoying the same narrative aspect of the project that I’ve always invested in my work.
“I am very much a storyteller in my paintings, and the prospect of splitting myself into five alter-egos, each of which was responsible for a different body of work, was a really fun challenge. Here’s the catch, though — once I started painting, the harder I tried to create these very different aesthetics, the more my true, signature style seemed to creep through. This was, for all intents and purposes, a backwards experiment in which I inevitably realized that I truly do have a singular, artistic vision that cannot be repressed. I would quite literally sit down at the easel with the intent of painting as abstractly as possible, and, five hours later, I would push myself back in my chair and look at a painting that was undeniably ‘Cory’ — an utterly straightforward, realistic, yet objective, approach to representing everyday objects or natural elements around us,” Willingham said.
“After about the 15th painting, it became very clear to me that what I was doing was not, in fact, construing five different artists, but shining a spotlight on the one artist I couldn’t seem to define before starting down this path — myself,” she continued. “And at that point, I became very happy to simply reside in that sweet spot, creating paintings that felt natural to me, which seemed to come from an instinctual place of creation, and depicted objects that had sentimental value to me. I scrapped the Faux Show concept and instead became determined to investigate and refine my unique approach to contemporary realism.”
Since Willingham began the project with five “personalities” in mind, she said those who view the paintings will notice five distinct groups within the exhibit.
“There is a wonderful group of Trompe-L’oeil paintings, which I have always enjoyed doing. Trompe-l’oeil is a french term which loosely translates to ‘to trick the eye,’ and these paintings are a really fun way of representing an object that is two dimensional in such a way that it appears three dimensional. After Hurricane Katrina, Quaker parrots who had been released accidentally because of the hurricane bred and created an incredible wild population you can see throughout New Orleans today. As a nod to our recent move from New Orleans, I painted two Quaker parrot feathers we found on our porch back when we lived in the French Quarter; tied tightly in a piece of twine, the two feathers appear to dangle and hover above the surface of the canvas,” Willingham said.
“I have also explored landscapes and traditional still lifes, as well as a group of wine-themed works inspired by my and my family’s love of and recent trips to wineries. In the past year, I have begun painting the corks from special wine and champagne bottles, staging them in tableaus like actors on a stage. One of the paintings coming to YCAC, in fact, depicts the corks from my own wedding, sabered off with a sword that belonged to one of my husband’s ancestors,” she continued.
As with her 2014 exhibit, birds are still a common theme in Willingham’s art.
“What began as my most abstract effort, and because I have been painting birds for years now and still love capturing their spirit, is a group of wonderful paintings with brightly-colored backgrounds and fluid, active brushwork with dynamic birds in flight. Perhaps one of my most favorite aspects of these works is that several of these canvases started as paintings by my toddler! Ellie often comes down to my studio and wants to paint when she sees Mommy working, so I keep several canvases around I can whip out and let her splash paint on. As an experiment, I grabbed one of those, added a layer of paint applied with a palette knife, then scratched back through my layer to reveal her brightly painted underpainting. I adored the effect so much I bribed her with pancakes to paint more for me so that I could repeat the process for three more paintings,” Willingham said.
Willingham said she is looking forward to meeting area art lovers who attend the reception next week.
“All together, there are around 30 paintings created specifically for the Welborn Gallery exhibit, and I am so excited to be bringing them up to Yadkinville personally and attending the Artist Reception,” she said. “I want visitors to connect to with the paintings — I particularly like painting subjects that I connect with personally, but know will resonate with others as well; these are objects from our everyday lives, objects we recognize from grandma’s house, have celebrated with, collected on trips, or use to remember precious times or remind us of the spirit of our lives.”
View more of Willingham’s work on her Instagram page @corywillinghamstudio.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.