Published: Aug 19, 2009 02:00 AM
Modified: Aug 19, 2009 09:15 AM
Annemarie Gugelmann's Main Street pulses in patchwork oils: the cadmium red bricks of Brightleaf Square, the burnt sienna of Liggett & Myers, the ultramarine blue night sky.
The 24-year-old artist calls her 6 foot by 6 foot paintings of Durham abstract cityscapes.
They're realistic enough you can tell you're looking at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park or an American Dance Festival performance at Golden Belt, the setting sun shadowing the dancers on the warehouse floor.
They're distorted enough you can't tell they started with photographs Gugelmann shot, then sketched out on 16-square grids in the studio of her family's home on Chapel Hill's Eastwood Lake. The second-floor bedroom is draped in drop cloth, the Durham photos and nude pencil sketches from college art classes sharing space on the wall.
Gugelmann discovered downtown Durham when her brother got a job at Duke Corporate Education in the American Tobacco Complex.
She saw past and present together and wanted to explore how spaces were evolving in the footprint of what had come before. She pitched the idea to the Durham Arts Council and received a $1,400 Emerging Artist's grant, the youngest winner this year. Her show opens Friday night at the Arts Council, at 120 Morris St.
"It definitely has been painted a couple of times," Gugelmann said of Durham and laughed. "I think they liked what I planned to do: combine the old with the new."
At 5 foot 7 in socks and paint-splattered jeans, the Bryn Mawr graduate has to stand on tip toes to lift her canvases, which line the hallway and lean against the living room wall.
She had been doing tiny canvases, blocks just a few inches across, "because they sell," she said.
For her show, she wanted to try something big, inspired by the huge canvases of Julie Mehretu, kinetic, highly stylized urban landscapes 12 feet across that came to the N.C. Museum of Art last year.
It takes about a week to paint each of the new works.
"I just do it, and I step back," she said. "If it looks good, that's it."
She takes a lot of photos to find the perspective she wants to paint. When the picture's right, she says the canvas almost paints itself. She layers each painting in a single color, swirls of yellow ochre for the Main Street painting, fiery red for the Golden Belt dancers. She works about six hours a day.
Gugelmann didn't set out to be an artist, majoring in political science at college. But she always enjoyed it, painting murals in high school and taking art classes at Haverford College because Bryn Mawr didn't have a fine arts program.
In her senior year, her thesis adviser said, "Annemarie, I think you're really good at political science, but maybe you should pursue things with your hands."
She did her homework for the show.
She learned about Hayti as she painted black middle class homes of the 1920s and '30s. She read about the city's tobacco heritage as she turned downtown. In her ballpark, faceless players on the field seem an afterthought, the warehouse water tower dominating a pink sunset.
"I learned a lot," she said. "History I wouldn't know if the buildings weren't there."