Maya Angelou’s heart stopped May 28. The news broke Renee Leverty’s heart.
She was working on a sculpture based on the book “Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen,” for the upcoming “WORD” exhibit at Pleiades Gallery. The book is about the Pussy Riot band members imprisoned in 2012 for demonstrating against Russian leader Vladamir Putin.
“I wanted to do a piece on the power of words,” Leverty said.
Her sculpture was still in progress and had cement formed around the base. After Angelou died, Leverty removed the concrete, raised the lone figure of the metal woman on the base, and named the piece, “Still I Rise,” after Angelou’s poem about resiliency and black pride.
The power of Leverty’s sculpture reflects the entire exhibit at Pleiades, 109 E. Chapel Hill St. in Durham.
“WORD” is at Pleiades Gallery through July 13. There will be a Third Friday Reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. The gallery also will host “SPEAK,” an evening of open mic poetry, free and open to the public, from 6 to 9 p.m. June 27.
Pleiades is an artist co-op with 10 members, including Darius Quarles who stores everything he witnesses to inform his artwork. His paintings are like collages: many ideas worked into one piece.
“I like to keep viewers guessing,” he said.
“Top 6,” one of his paintings in “WORD,” was inspired by a love of books and has many visual elements, including the spines of six books, an owl, a boat, boardwalks, and a willow tree whose trunk includes a door to a library. The painting’s top section looks otherworldly, inspired by the Pleiades star cluster.
“Being a part of this co-op has opened my eyes, and even with the growing pains, the experience has been amazing,” explained Quarles, who in the past year has created some of his paintings’ backgrounds using a shop vac to move wet paint around. “Being involved with these artists has really helped my creative process and pushed me to be more experimental.”
Sandra Elliott, who also teaches visual journaling, has a mixed-media painting in the exhibit called “Things Left Unsaid” that incorporates a letter she wrote to her father after he died but never sent.
“I worshipped my father but never got the chance to ask him some questions that I wanted to ask,” she said.
Journaling gives Elliott new perspectives. She ripped the letter from her journal, put it on her canvas, and then obliterated it by covering it with paint and broken pencils. Viewers are invited to share thoughts with Elliott, who before she goes into her studio every morning, does quick drawings or art to get creative juices flowing.
“I will use viewers’ words to inspire my sketches, then send them to the viewers,” she said.
Sculptor Emily Cox loved making classical figurative sculpture but was disconcerted by people’s fixations on body image.
After a hiatus from making art, Cox went to Claymakers in Durham “to find a way to marry figure sculpture with something more abstract.”
She succeeded. Her clay, figurative female pieces in the show, made using the ancient process of raku firing she learned at Claymakers, are stunning.
“You may not even know why you are attracted to a piece, but it is taking away all of the psychological distractions, hopefully,” Cox said.
“Never Give Up,” a large, clay piece Cox named after her family’s motto, appears carved from alabaster.
“The special thing about raku is that when pieces have been glazed and are in the kiln, they are removed when the kiln reaches its peak heat,” she explained. “Normally, you don’t mess with the fire at its peak heat as it messes up the glaze.”
Once she takes her work out of the kiln, Cox puts each piece in a can filled with newspapers, which catch fire from the piece’s heat. Much about the raku process is uncontrollable. Cox said, “There are many wonderful, mysterious factors. All you can do is hope.”
When Cox pulled “Never Give Up” from the can, her gloves caught on fire so she set it on the ground. The back has a surprising texture, she said, as grass and pine needles became incorporated in the glaze.
That serendipity appeals to her.
“I always hope that my art has a contemplative effect,” Cox said. “I want people to embrace their own ability to experiment in life with their voice.”
Other artists in the show include Jim Lee, Jim Adams, Kim Wheaton, Bill Koeb, Jena Matzen and Revere La Noue.
Deborah Meyer writes about the visual arts each month. Contact her at email@example.com