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Focus On: Amherst artist Craig Pleasants shows work at Sweet Briar

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  • 'A Room (for your soul)'

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    Craig poses with his installation in Sweet Briar College's Babcock Gallery. The exhibit opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Feb. 14.

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:00 pm | Updated: 2:22 pm, Wed Feb 13, 2013.

Why you should know him: Craig has worked at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts since 1989 and serves as its artistic director. His latest piece, a site-specific installation, will debut in Sweet Briar College’s Babcock Gallery, with an opening reception at 5 p.m. Thursday.


The North Carolina native first became interested in art in high school.

"The father of a good friend of mine was a painter," he says. "I was at his house one time [in high school], and he just handed me pen and paper."

After graduating, Craig enrolled at Wake Forest University to study politics, but switched majors — and colleges — after an art history class "completely blew me away," he says.

"I decided, at that point, I was going to be an artist."

So he transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in sculpture. He also studied at L’Institut d’Arts Visuels in Orleans France, and Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he completed a master’s degree in humanities and education.

Craig graduated from Converse College in 1983 and has been involved in the art world ever since.

In 1978, he co founded The Upstairs Artspace, an avant-guard exhibition space in Tryon, N.C., and served as its curator until 1984. He went on to work as co director and exhibition designer of two New York University exhibit spaces from 1985 to 1989, and was a founding member of the National Association of Artists Organizations.

He has shown his work all over the world, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, The Alternative Museum in New York and Musee d’Art Contemporain in France, and his artist’s book, "The Three Little Pigs: as it was originally passed into English folklore in 1620," is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

His Sweet Briar College installation, titled "A Room (for your soul)," is a room-within-a-room that he will alter over time. Right now, the bright red structure — made using the Babcock Gallery’s moveable walls — is surrounded by 2,000 used data CDs that Craig collected from artists’ submissions to VCCA over the years. He says it is an homage to the artists who apply "just seeking a quiet place to concentrate on their work."

He hopes the experience of entering the room-within-the-room will "slow people down enough that they are able to hear themselves think for a minute."

How did you come up with the idea for the structure?

"I have been looking at exhibitions in Babcock Gallery for many years and have often thought about how the moveable walls make the gallery feel somewhat provisional. I wanted to do an installation that made the room feel like itself again. … [The gallery space] is kind of a pass-through. So I wanted to challenge that assumption also. That’s why, when you first walk in the door, you’re confronted with a big, red wall.

"A lot of my work has been architectural. In a way, it makes sense with my other work."

How will it evolve over the course of the exhibit?

"I’m not sure. Once every five or six weeks, it will change."

Have you always been interested in structures?

"Yeah, I have. Even when I was a little kid, I would try to build stuff."

You have worked with so many different mediums — sculpture, drawing, and even performance art. How do you tie it all together?

"I don’t do any performance art anymore. I do, once in awhile, make a film. I’m also doing 2-D work these days. I call it drawing, but I’m using a brush."

In the past, you’ve used a lot of unconventional materials, like shoe boxes and boot inserts, in your installations. Why is that?

"I like to use things that I find, kind of in quantity. A lot of those pieces came about because I was involved with Riverviews when they were creating the space. … The top floors were filled with these rickety … old shelves, and there were cardboard [shoe] boxes stapled to them. There were like 1,000 of them, and I just came and got them. In a way, I was green before the term green. I have been re-using and repurposing things for 30 years."

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