Being an artist is a loaded label. Who wants to be confined by the title painter, photographer, guitarist? These artists are all blurry -- they combine idea and medium in interesting and perverse ways and elevate or at least mutate their genre.1. Stephen Vitiello, sound man
He's a composer of soundscapes, a creator of ornate installations that you can put in your house and turn on and off. He owns the best stereo microphone on the market, and he uses it to record what he calls the weirdness in his backyard 14 beagles on one side, pit bulls on the other, some kids with fireworks. Then he'll take a canoe down into an old-growth forest or into a roller-derby practice and just record.
These constructs are transplanted into gallery spaces in London or New York or Marfa, Texas. "I keep constantly thinking about how I can reshape what I present," he says. The New York native has been here three years, teaching in VCU's department of kinetic imaging, riding a bus every day with a recording rig in his backpack like a photographer of the invisible.
He has a show coming up at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, a culmination of all these sounds from his new state, an epic auditory poem of Virginia, with accompanying sculpture and photography. These things can then live in your house, installations that appear at the flick of a switch.2. Kat Legault, dancer with nine lives
She's a fast learner, all right. Legault started formal dance training only at the age of 21. When most folks her age were thinking about how to have the most fun stumbling around, she was learning modern dance. She worked with Ground Zero Dance Company on the gravity-defying "Moment of Flight," and she defies conventions of dress and ladylike behavior as the dancing sensualist Madame Poe for Nouvelle Burlesque and Sweet Tease Burlesque. Through burlesque, she's found a wider cross section of people to introduce to what she calls "experimental, modern, physical theater."
In addition to the empowering flirtation of burlesque, Legault is moving toward a more narrative kind of theater, such as "Poor Richard," a piece she choreographed with Rob Petres that she's shopping around to places as far-ranging as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She also teaches dance at VCU, though she says her students haven't seen Madame Poe in action just yet. Which may be a whole new kind of lesson.3. Bruce Wilhelm, animated paintings
Wilhelm has paintings and lithographs of characters that would seem to be the evolutionary prototypes of our modern, loud-talking cartoon animals. But there's also something quiet about his pieces quiet but full of energy, like Hokusai's great wave forever breaking on the fishing boats. So it's startling, but not altogether surprising, when the paintings actually move, expending that pent-up energy.
Wilhelm has animated some of his paintings, which show up at ADA Gallery as bright landscapes with characters walking or disappearing into glowing ponds. But the screens are flat and framed, and when hung on the wall, the only indication that the painting hasn't been given life is the cord trailing down the wall. Wilhelm says he didn't see much animation in galleries: "It just seemed like it was right in front of a lot of artists as the next logical step, and no one was taking it." Wilhelm's waves are breaking, and taking him to Philadelphia soon, though his moving images will continue to dance across Richmond's walls.4. Liz Hopson, fashion photography with a story
There's something about Hopson's photography: It has all the hallmarks of a fashion shoot pretty people, bold colors, dramatic lines but there's always something lurking in them that's a little off. Ruby lips part to swallow a spoonful of candy-bright pills, a tastefully dressed girl walks on a train track, a girl stands in a bedroom in a towel while someone sits on a bed, barely in the frame.
It makes you think about it more than you would an ad for camisoles, and it elevates the work. Hopson, a VCU grad and 2007 VMFA fellowship winner, says her work started out as fashion and always ended up differently. So she ran with it, telling these stories that take a few beats to sink in. "I don't think everything has to be deep or conceptual" to be good, she says. "I definitely try to find time for humor."5. Rusty Wilson, theater company man
Wilson just finished directing "Mr. Marmalade" for the Firehouse Theatre. It's a little ditty about a girl whose imaginary friend is basically a criminal. It's the kind of weird theater this city needs a lot of, sort of off-Broad Street. He also directed "Where's My Money?" but Wilson climbs up onstage too, acting in Firehouse productions of "The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath" and "Dinner With Friends." He's even in the theater-exporting business, sort of incidentally, creating Company of Fools here and shipping it to Idaho at the encouragement of none other than Bruce Willis, back in the Demi days.
But anyway, he moved back here three years ago and teaches kids at St. Christopher's when not directing plays about twisted kids. So he just shows up everywhere, and now he's thinking about embarking on more independent projects to expand the theater scene, maybe off-off-Broad Street. "I think there's room for more people at the conversation," he says.6. Oura Sananikone, toymaker for bad kids
On Sananikone's Web site there's a drawing of a big, blocky creature with seven arms and a few legs, each a link to one of his projects Paintings, Comix, Music (his one-man band is beautifully named The Brandons), Clothes and Plush. Every lick of his work comes out cartoony, not entirely un-cute, but maybe slightly deranged. And yet it translates well across the many arms of his empire, whether his work appears on a canvas or in a cuddly plush form, a toy for troubled children (and adults). Sananikone's work isn't limited by media; in fact, he seems to be filling up all available means of communication with his characters if "cuddly" can be considered a medium.7. Matt White, big bander
With his Halloween reincarnation of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album channeled through his eight-piece unit (see page 61), White has officially challenged musical convention around here. If you should stroll into Cous Cous on the off Wednesday and listen to Fight the Big Bull, you might notice that it's a lot like a live brass jukebox, pumping out tunes a lot more familiar and pop-driven than Count Basie.
White proved he could rally with last year's performance of Weezer's "Blue Album," pulling in the people. Now comes "Thriller" in its entirety, which should really be something. But just that Fight the Big Bull can give swell new life to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" on the off Wednesday pretty much justifies the arrangements he's filling his jukebox with.8. Lucas Krost, film juggler
A director is just a juggler of concepts. Which is much more difficult than juggling flaming batons and puppies and such. Krost's film company, The Branching Films, recently won Best in City at Richmond's first 48 Hour Film Project, which meant Krost got no sleep while he kept 50 crew members aloft, working on a seven-minute film that had to go from concept to can in 48 hours.
He's used to it, though. After spending nine months working last year on "One Nation Under Guard," a documentary about the prison system, he was sleeping only three hours a night in order to promote the film, which went on to win a $100,000 prize in an online competition against about 400 other entries. "It was the first time I was like, wow, something I did impacted someone somehow," he says.
Now, in addition to his work on big features that are partly filmed here "War of the Worlds" and "Evan Almighty" he's getting ready for a 48-hour follow-up against 47 other cities. The winning films will go to the Cannes Film Festival. After that, there are plans for a short film and then a feature-length, meaning he'll only see dreams on the screen. 9. Adam Juresko, collage artist and Xerox devotee
For a guy who never strays far from his Oregon Hill home, Juresko's work sure does show up a lot of places. His bombastic collage work forged from images stolen out of old library books and reworked with copy machines, paste and paint appears in galleries such as None Such and Gallery5, as ads for RVA magazine and on bottles of Mountain Dew (somehow they found him as part of a promotional deal to put artists on labels).
His dedication to analog that is, glue and tape and copy machines rather than getting digital gives a more direct line from work to artist, way out there in Oregon Hill. "It's a really gratifying process for me," he said in our Fall Arts Issue. "It's also very slow and tedious, which I like. It gets me out of the house; it keeps me out of trouble. Most of the time."Back to the Cover Story