If art is strictly a matter of “experience” and what really counts is quality, then there’s a debate to be had about UM Alum Tom Virgin’s Reflections and Dreams at the Leonard Tachmes Gallery.
The world Virgin creates with his woodcuts and illustrations is one of controlled movement, humanity, and warmth – in “The Straits of Mackinac,” for instance, the figure stares out at you with inviting and welcoming eyes, and the only anachronisms within the showing are the two pieces that use a commercial sign printing technique and the one work with color.
Experience successfully serves Virgin’s work as his woodcuts and linoleum cuts are excellently done. A word about woodcut and linoleum cut printing: this process begins with a solid block of wood/linoleum and the artist chips away from the surface leaving behind the image they want printed. The block is then inked on the surface and printed on paper, thus allowing for a series of the same image to be made.
The quality of subject matter in this series of woodcuts is left to personal taste, but skill speaks louder than anything else in this show. He masterfully handles this very difficult medium with ease. Also, capturing the likeness of a figure in addition to dealing with the wood is something to be proud of. He admits, “The evidence of my struggle to find [my models] in the wood is evident.” And his struggle is clearly palpable. In this case, the result is that the female portraits generally seem to look alike.
Even so, Virgin’s craftsmanship and mood speak through the work. The series of portraits are unified by similarities in their facial features and their composition. The viewer clearly perceives the connections between the subjects and a pattern is created: a single figure accompanied by a landscape.
Although very proficiently done, Tom Virgin’s work feels like it could be pushed further. The showing is almost a tease, or a mere glimpse of his full potential. One is taunted by “Skateboy with Attitude,” which is the only work with color in it. All of the other pieces are done purely in black, white, and gray. Unfortunately, “Skateboy” is only an okay print. The registration of the colors is a bit off, and the relevance and connection with the rest of the works is unclear. If this collection is “evidence of a dream world,” then that piece is out of its element. The mood is much too raw to fit in.
The works done in the vinyl printing technique are slick and graphic, removing the human touch that the other work has. They are a unique set of images and would fare nicely in a show of their own, but not quite in Reflections and Dreams. Those visions are much too cold to belong with the rest. Virgin’s illustrations are a treat because, through them, you are allowed into his preliminary processes. The graphite illustrations of faces express the character of the models more visibly than the woodcuts do, but their relationship is more manifest than that of the vinyl to the woodcuts.
If you want to see a show with some experienced, quality alternative art-making techniques, then this is for you. Printmaking here is well represented.
Reflections and Dreams is on view at the Leonard Tachmes Gallery, 817 NE 125th St., North Miami, through May 15. Call 305-895-1030 for more info.
Adriana Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.