Several years ago a friend of mine, Jeff Harms, told me about his time at VCCA. During his stay he created a very large ink drawing in the most affordable way he could muster – by collecting walnuts that he found on site and boiling them down to create ink. He said that the program was really special and that the natural surroundings were beautiful. I’ve always trusted his judgment (partly because at one point in time he was my wise TA in a class at SAIC).
Since this mention, several other residency-goers whom I met over the last couple of years said that they absolutely loved it. I finally decided to apply this year and was placed on the waiting list. In mid-May they notified me that a spot had opened up; I had to be there within ten days and stay for a month. School wasn’t out yet. I finished all my grading, packed the car, and drove southeast.
I spent a day in Columbus, OH, with old friends and then continued on my journey to Virginia. Google Maps sent me across the Blue Ridge Mountains down a winding two-lane road with very steep inclines. My ears were popping. Although the road was stressful for this Midwesterner, the surrounding forest was so magical; the vegetation looked unlike any other I’d seen – with vines, hanging plants, lots of large wild flowers…
When I arrived, the tiny bunnies running around and the smell of grass and honeysuckles caught my attention. I arrived in the afternoon and got settled in my room and studio. Residencies make me feel incredibly grateful and spoiled; the resources provided are so generous. I feel eternally grateful that places like these exist. At VCCA, each fellow gets a private bedroom with a shared bathroom and room service once a week. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are professionally prepared each day and served buffet-style with plenty of choices. In addition to the bedroom, we each have a large separate studio space that is differently equipped depending on the medium (the composers, for example, get a piano, while the artists get work tables and lights). All of the studios have beds in them, and there is a second kitchen that is open for fellows to use between meals if needed.
I have been here two weeks and I’ve already made more work than I have in two months with all my responsibilities and chores back home. I also met some people and made new friends. The converging of personalities in this kind of setting often leads to lasting creative connections and friendships. Ann Tarantino arrived in the studio next to mine and we bonded over an incident of spilled gesso. We soon began to exchange studio visits and references, and at some point decided to take a 2-mile walk to Sweet Briar College to check out the swimming pool and other facilities. This required walking on the side of a road where we spotted a large dead snake. The swimming pool was closed for a few weeks… Some of the residents chose to swim in the pond instead. After several detours, we walked through some tall grasses towards a wooded area. The path reappeared and we made it back safely.
On another occasion, Ann and Gwenessa told a story of walking down the road and coming across a pygmy goat that had its horns trapped in a fence. With teamwork and patience, they managed to free the goat without getting bitten or injured. This kind of unexpected closeness somehow strikes me as exemplary of life at the VCCA. People come here from all over the world and find themselves in a relatively remote environment. We eat meals together and give readings, studio visits, and presentations that are informally organized by the fellows. I’ve had some lengthy conversations with Amit from Israel and Elizabeth from NC, exchanged music with “a random metal dude” from Germany (Christoph), and watched a movie with Yukari from Japan, and Nat who left Brooklyn to pursue his writing full-time.
I have been using my time here to focus on the Foreign Bodies series of drawings on Yupo. My first week was dedicated to finishing the drawing I began a couple of months ago in Chicago, which was the only piece that I had to show for my time here leading up to the first open studio event. An 80” drawing of a rectum with anal beads didn’t seem too representative of my work in general, but I was able to provide some context by hanging another finished drawing and several new sheets of Yupo that had the ink layer already applied. This series has evolved quite a bit; I am still discovering the interaction between the ink and the graphite while finding new ways in which the body can be addressed as foreign vs. familiar. Two more weeks here. Who knows where they’ll take me.