Explore friendship, chronicling, intimacy in DVAC’s “Holdfast” exhibit

While the Dayton Visual Arts Center has been planning its latest exhibit since early 2014, most of the works featured in Holdfast, which opens Friday, Sept. 4, will have been created in the past 10 days in Dayton, and many within the center itself.

The intimate, detailed four-color pen and pencil works are created by four longtime friends who together form the Four-Footed Fellows Correspondence Club, many while sitting together around a small table in a handmade wooden camper, each artist contributing to one drawing to create a collaborative whole.

For Holdfast, the four members of the art collective — Travis Head, Zach Stensen, Josh Black and David Dunlap, formerly named the Fylfot Fellows Correspondence Club — have spent the past 10 days in Dayton sitting in one of two campers creating their pieces together. After Head and Dunlap drove the original camper from Blacksburg, Va., stopping to work along the way, the full quartet met up in Dayton and created a second camper that was sized to be installed directly inside of the Dayton Visual Arts Center, which patrons can explore as part of the exhibition.

Since arriving, they’ve spent most waking hours together in one camper or the other, working with themes from their long history together, their recent camping jaunt to Lake Superior, their travels around the world and from Blacksburg to downtown, and from their current surroundings in Dayton.

Holdfast was selected as part of DVAC's biennial international call for artists and exhibitions in 2014 and will be the nonprofits first true artist-in-residence exhibition, said Eva Buttacavoli, DVAC's executive director.

“We loved this exhibit because we were going to see the progression of the artistic process,” she explained. “It’s a great concept of introspection and thoughtfulness.”

“And this is what artists around the world are doing,” she continued. “The collaborative concept, you see it with musicians now too, with one musician being featured on another musician’s track.”

Don’t be daunted if you first gaze upon their drawings and don’t understand the meaning behind the tiny house layouts, the cryptic phrases, or that ever-present Bic four-color pen — honestly, you’ll never fully understand any of their drawings. It’s like reading someone else’s journal: you might pick up a few trends, grasp the basic plot of any given entry, but there is so much back story, so much that goes unsaid that any outsider will never be privy to.

And that’s how you need to treat these works by the four Fellows: Originally formed as a letter-writing project in 2007 at the University of Iowa, each collective work is like a glimpse into their collective consciousness.

“We think about these drawings as made by all of us, even if one of us didn’t draw on one or the other,” Head said.

“What’s interesting is the mix,” added Black. “We can remember whose hand did what, but to me, it’s how those hands create together.”

The drawings and phrases don’t always fit together in a way that you, the viewer, can understand, and some thoughts and images appear unfinished and a bit messy. In fact, some of them are revisited by the Fellows, added to and revised. But is that not the way our minds work already? As you work through the exhibit, you see more themes and aesthetics that identify each of the artists’ contributions:  Head’s tiny home models; Dunlap’s four-color pens, that may or may not make sense when you leave the center.

Stop by Holdfast's opening reception Friday night from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. (DVAC Collector-level Members and Sponsors are invited as early as 5 p.m.), or attend the gallery talk on Saturday from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. to hear the artists explain their works better than we ever could. If your weekend is booked, you have until Oct. 17.

As an added bonus, DVAC's far side gallery will features works by Michigan-based painter John V. Dempsey in the exhibition Landscape Shift.

"Since we knew (Holdfast) was going to be drawings and autobiographical and intimate, in order to balance it, we have John Dempsey on the far side with big, colorful landscaped drawings that look like fun house drawings," Buttacavoli said. Dempsey's large paintings — note especially Factory Ceiling No.1/Buick City and Glare #7: Toledo Jeep — challenge your sense of perspective and landscape in gorgeous ways, and provide a great contrast to the introspective nature of the Four-Footed Correspondence's Club's work.

Don’t miss a single piece from either of these wonderful contemporary exhibitions.

Want to go?

What: Holdfast, works by the Four-Footed Correspondence Club, and Landscape Shift, new paintings by John V. Dempsey

When: Sept.4- Oct.17, opening reception Sept. 4 6 p.m.-8 p.m.; gallery talk Sept. 5 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Where: The Dayton Visual Arts Center, 118 N. Jefferson St.

Hours: Tues- Sat 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. ; closed Sun-Mon

More info: daytonvisualarts.org