Two posthumous retrospectives of Richmond artist Cindy Neuschwander’s work co-operate to show the way art evolves over the course of an artist’s life.
The late Richmond artist Cindy Neuschwander is taking over the art scene this summer with two posthumous exhibitions at 1708 Gallery and Reynolds Gallery. Neuschwander, who passed away in 2012, was a Richmond native and graduated from VCU in 1986. The two exhibitions of her work that are currently on display represent two different phases of her artistic life. Her art is often identified with minimalism and abstract expressionism, but once you see her work, you’ll realize these labels alone don’t do it justice.
Opened on July 5, the exhibition at 1708 Gallery, What were you after then? What are you after now? has pieces from Neuschwander’s earlier work, created between 1984 and 1990. The exhibition mostly features photographic collages, text, painting, and scraffito, a technique that involves scratching away at paint or plaster to reveal a hidden lower layer.
On June 13, Reynolds Gallery also opened a Cindy Neuschwander exhibition, A Measure of Life. The exhibition contains some of Neuschwander’s later work, dating from 1999 to 2010. Some of the pieces are part of the private collection that was left to her husband and art dealer, Jay Barrows, after her passing. Some of the pieces at Reynolds Gallery have yet to be seen by the public.
According to Park Myers, the curator at 1708 Gallery, there are some stylistic connections and mark-making present in Neuschwander’s early work that she carried through into the later work that’s on display at Reynolds. There is a lot of emphasis on eyes in the images, as well as a focus on couples, whether it be significant others or a mother and daughter. Some works seem to deliberately shroud or mask body parts such as arms or legs.
“Some are more jubilant or about an intense relationship, and they are met with the same level of color saturation, mark-making and scraffito,” said Myers. “What’s interesting is the way she begins to abstract the figure in these early works, but still includes the actual figure.”
In other works, these body parts are more abstract. The works disconnect these appendages, making them seem more like geometric shapes than any part of a human body. “When you’re deciding to hide certain parts of the body, it involves a certain type of psychology and identity representation,” Myers said. “When she tries to either hide something or expose something, she’s making psychology that is very internal to the work itself, or speaking outwardly to the viewer.”
There are clear differences between the pieces at 1708 Gallery and the newer work on display at Reynolds. By the time of her later work, her art had become more abstract and minimalist. A Measure of Life also introducing Neuschwander’s work with encaustic painting, a mixed-media technique that involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments have been added. Due to its temperature, the beeswax can be manipulated in a variety of ways — shaped, etched, or even removed to leave a shadow of its presence behind.
While Neuschwander’s art varies between the differing periods on display at the two galleries, there is a clear connection between her stylistic choices in the different eras. One can even see some of the recurring themes or patterns from her early works showing up in new ways in her later work.
“You can feel the several distinct series and periods that she was working in,” said Julia Monroe, co-director at Reynolds Gallery. “Some works are geometric, some are encaustic.”
Some of the earliest works in the 1708 Gallery show date back to Neuschwander’s college days. Meanwhile, “The Couple,” a self-portrait of Neuschwander and Barrows together that is included in Reynolds Gallery exhibition, is one of the last pieces she worked on before her passing. When viewed as a whole, the work provides a detailed picture of Neuschwander’s life as an artist, and helps demonstrate the themes and objects that were most important to her throughout her life.
What were you after then? What are you after now? is currently on display at 1708 Gallery, located at 319 W. Broad St in the Arts District. It will remain on display through August 18.
A Measure Of Life is currently on display at Reynolds Gallery, located at 1514 W. Main St in the Fan. It will remain on display through August 23.
Top Image via 1708 Gallery/Twitter