Sparks fly

Snapshot of community illuminated at DVAC open members’ show

By Susan Byrnes

Photo:Zach Steele, Wympee; photo: Patrick Mauk

Everyone is a member of something, whether it’s a family, a club, Facebook, the Dayton community or society in general. Something that develops our relationships with others in our group, and enhances our sense of belonging, is participation. For members of the arts community, providing opportunities to participate is one of the things that the Dayton Visual Arts Center does best.

The Body Electric is DVAC’s 24th Annual Open Members’ Show, which is on display through August 15. For the exhibition, DVAC invites all of its current members, brand new as well as longstanding, to create or choose one piece of their work in response to a theme. This year 144 members submitted works, resulting in an extensive and eclectic visual experience. DVAC Gallery Manager Patrick Mauk, who expertly arranged and hung the vast collection of pieces, describes the show as “well rounded, with every media you can think of, including painting, prints, sculpture, ceramics, glass and even jewelry.”

Of the participating artists, executive director Eva Buttacavoli says, “More than half of DVAC Artist Members have a BFA or have completed some formal art training; many of them have professional markets and accomplishments outside the region as well—gallery affiliation, shows, collectors, awards—and continue to be part of their community’s art center while spreading their wings. For newer artists, exhibiting with more experienced artists is an opportunity to make new connections and learn about new opportunities.”

A gallery talk with exhibiting artists will be held on Friday, August 7 starting at 6:15 p.m.

This year’s theme, The Body Electric, refers to the Walt Whitman poem “I Sing the Body Electric” in his 1855 collection Leaves of Grass. First published during the morally conservative Victorian era, Whitman’s book sparked controversy due to its unambiguous appreciation of the sensuality of the human body. DVAC artists responded to Whitman’s words as well as broader interpretations of the body, electricity, energy and light.

“Best in Show” award winner Mychaelyn Michalec’s piece, “To be with those I like is enough,” is titled for Whitman’s poem of the same name. In her statement, award juror Cat Mayhugh, Director of Exhibitions for the Fitton Center for the Arts in Hamilton, Ohio, says Michalec’s painting of intermingled groupings of lamps and lighting fixtures “seems to imply hours spent in company around illuminated tables or the time an artist spends alone contemplating the objects that inspire her.”

Artist Leesa Haapapuro also looked directly to Whitman’s poetry for inspiration. Her piece “Portrait Project, Rodney” consists of a small clay figure sculpted during the exhibit’s opening reception, with Rodney Veal (choreographer, interdisciplinary artist and host of Think TV’s The Art Show) as her model. In conceiving her approach to the theme, Haapapuro considered Whitman’s lines:

“The expression of the face balks account,

But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,

It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,

It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,

The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,

To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,

You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.”

Pop culture is as much an influence as poetry in Amy Deal’s acrylic painting “Burning With a Fire of Ten Million Stars,” which takes its title from the 1980 film “Fame.” Lyrics from “I Sing the Body Electric,” a theme song of the film, create the ground for an image of two embracing figures surrounded by cosmic forms of stars and planets.

Another work that touches on the energy of the cosmos is Joel Whitaker’s archival digital print “Sun – 017,” a photograph of a soft blast of light emanating from a midnight-dark background. For Mary Beth Whitley, the notion of electricity and energy conjured thoughts of expression in the face of challenge. Whitley, who has multiple sclerosis, deals daily with disrupted electrical connections in her body. Her response has been to document thoughts and self-portraits via Instagram, a medium accessible to her even when powerful medication and physical limitations hinder activity.  For her DVAC piece, Whitley composed a grid of Instagram photos and poignant handwritten text overlaid with a hazy white encaustic to create a weighty yet ethereal self-portrait.

“It’s the one show each year that is open to all—a snapshot of our members and the breadth and variety of their work,” Buttacavoli says. “It’s both an introduction to our arts community for new or emerging artists and is a giving back and re-commitment from long-time artists. This exhibition is many members’ and visitors’ favorite show of the year.”

DVAC’s 24th annual open members’ show, The Body Electric, will be held from July 10-August 15 at 118 N. Jefferson St. For more information, call 937.224.3822 or visit



Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at

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