Works from two prominent artists are on display in Virginia for the very first time. The Moss Arts Center’s fall exhibitions feature two solo shows — Craig Drennen’s “First Acts, Scene 2,” a collection of paintings, mixed-media installation, and video inspired by an obscure Shakespeare work, and Steve Locke’s “the daily practice of painting,” consisting of 114 portraits Locke painted over the course of a year.

The exhibitions open with a reception on Thursday, Oct. 13, from 5-7 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center’s Grand Lobby, located at 190 Alumni Mall in Blacksburg. Drennen will give an artist talk on Friday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m. in the Cube. The talk also will be available via livestream on the Moss Arts Center website. The galleries and all related events are free and open the public.

“I’m excited to share some insight into these parallel exhibitions,” said Brian Holcombe, Moss Arts Center curator. “Besides a shared commitment to expanding the field of painting through a critical look at painting’s history, Craig and Steve’s friendship is an example of the importance of community in any artist’s career. Often, the only encouragement and critical dialogue artists receive is from each other and their circle of friends. Although this type of support tends to be difficult to perceive, it’s a vital part of the development of artists’ work and of the evolution of art history. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to bring them together for the first time at the Moss Arts Center.”

Craig Drennen

“First Acts, Scene 2”

Ruth C. Horton Gallery

Drennen’s “First Acts, Scene 2” is a selection of work from the artist’s ongoing series based on William Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens.” Unproduced in Shakespeare’s lifetime and regarded by many as his weakest play, “Timon of Athens” has been inspiring Drennen’s slow walk to self-portraiture since 2008.

According to Drennen, the project began as an intuitive response to finding an open subject deep in the Western canon to critique. Largely unknown, “Timon of Athens” invited Drennen to make work “in a desolate place,” which he compared to “the Appalachia of my childhood.” From the minor to major characters, each serves as an opportunity for both satire of his artist’s personae and a survey of the history of painting.

“First Acts, Scene 2” is a revival. In this presentation, Drennen combines the first series, “Timon of Athens” (2009), with the major character of Timon, “Chorus T” (2022), and the revisited minor character of “Old Athenian” (2010-ongoing). Drennen draws on multiple sources to map each character — life events and tropes from the painting canon become the framework for self-reflection within the world of Shakespeare. From a trompe l’oeil image of a vinyl record in “Timon of Athens 7” to the repetition of the letter "T" in “Chorus T” (2022) and “T’s” (2022) shared by the main character Timon and the artist’s father, Tony, the works imply a patriarchal presence. Each character series performs like a revisited memory or recurring thought.

In “Timon of Athens 1” (2009) and “Timon of Athens 2” (2009), Drennen inverts the role of photography and the readymade in the death of painting by incorporating trompe l’oeil images of polaroid backs taped to the canvas near blobs of paint squeezed from the tube. He continues the theme of the undead and painting in “Old Athenian and T’s” (2022). Printed on canvas, the work features a close-up still of Udo Kier’s face as Dracula from the film “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” (1974). Showing the actor’s face covered in fake blood, the image was chosen by Drennen for its painterly quality. Each canvas rests on the floor and leans against the wall, on which a carbon black horizontal band is painted. The tops of the canvases are smattered with impasto layers of fluorescent orange oil paint, the color described by Drennen as “pumpkin blood.”

Drennen was born in Elyria, Ohio, and raised in central West Virginia. Currently living and working in Atlanta, the painter is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow who has exhibited in Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, as well as New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. He has been an artist in residence at Yaddo, MacDowell, Triangle Arts Foundation, and Skowhegan. His work has been reviewed in Art in America, Artforum, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. Drennen has served as dean at Skowhegan, and currently teaches at Georgia State University and manages THE END Project Space. 

A view of six of the 114 panels included in Steve Locke's work "the daily practice of painting." These paintings are faces of six men, each with a different colored background.
A selection from Steve Locke's "the daily practice of painting" (2019-2020), egg tempera and oil emulsion on Claybord, 114 6- by 6-inch panels. Photo courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

Steve Locke

“the daily practice of painting”

Miles C. Horton Jr. Gallery and Sherwood Payne Quillen ’71 Reception Gallery

Comprised of 114 portraits made in 2019 and 2020, “the daily practice of painting” is part of Locke’s exploration of relationships among men and their gaze. Painted mostly in gouache on 6- by 6-inch Claybord, each square panel features a centered solitary head seen from the shoulders up. Bright hues prevail in these intimate scaled portraits, which contain a multitude of male expressions. Sometimes with eyes closed and tongues out, Locke’s men go against the idealized male portraiture. Presented horizontally in a single line below eye level, the viewer looks down to return their gaze, compounding their vulnerability.

Different from the floating heads waiting to be caught by the viewer in Locke’s 2012 series, “you don’t deserve me,” the men depicted in “the daily practice of painting” engage the viewer with shoulders squared and grounded. Spaced tightly together, the portraits appear episodic and suggest everyday and first-person accounts. Perhaps their purpose is similar to what Locke describes about his earlier series, “when you’re a boy” (2005-present). “But in addition to being a record of seeing,” Locke wrote in his artist statement, “they function as notes to myself about a particular person or encounter. They document something about the men I have seen … that I find compelling.”

The exhibition is a daily affirmation to Locke’s belief in everyday work. In his series statement, Locke wrote, “I have never believed in inspiration or safety as a condition for work or for anything else.” He concluded, “No one asked me to make them and no one needs them. They are the work I do every day.”

Locke was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Detroit. He lives and works in Brooklyn. In 2022, he was awarded the Rappaport Prize by deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum and received the Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2020. His solo exhibitions have been featured at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, among others. He has had gallery exhibitions with yours mine & ours, Samsøñ, LaMontagne Gallery, Gallery Kayafas, and Mendes Wood and attended residencies with the City of Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MacDowell Colony, and Skowhegan. Locke is a recipient of grants from Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and Art Matters Foundation. His work has been reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, the Boston Globe, and The New Yorker. Locke is a professor of fine arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Visiting the galleries

The center’s galleries are open on Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. The exhibitions will be on view through Saturday, Dec. 17.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. When not staffed for a special event, visitors may park in the garage by taking a ticket at entry and paying with Visa or Mastercard upon exit. Virginia Tech has also partnered with ParkMobile to provide a convenient, contactless electronic payment option for parking, which may be used at any parking meter, campus parking space, or lot with standard F/S, C/G, or R parking.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Jamie Wiggert at least 10 days prior to the event at 540-231-5300 or email during regular business hours.


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