Arts preview: “Canaries & Coal Dust” captures artist’s roots, displays striking contrast

  • Photos courtesy Stacy Evans
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From the December 19, 2013 edition

“Canaries & Coal Dust” is Sonya Lucas’ first solo exhibition of paintings, and that’s quite impressive given the works’ touch. It’s also a personal collection for Lucas, who grew up in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia. She wanted to draw on her blue-collar roots, while also creating her own pigments.

“There’s a great pride in that work, because it’s very difficult work.” said Lucas of the coal-mining pervasive in her hometown. “I just [wanted to] have a piece of home in the paintings because it’s important to have ownership of these marks you’re making.”

Lucas gets the finely-ground dust from her West Virginia coal miner uncle who collects unusable coal from the processing plant. She then mixes it with a clear acrylic medium.

“Everything is shaded by the coal; the coal is all the black that’s in the paint.” Lucas said. “Sometimes that’s used to tint the color, not always, but all the darkness is coal dust.”

Besides the methodology used to create the materials, Lucas also presents distinction through the paintings’ subject matter.

“Bang Bang” is the most compelling painting; a Rosie the Riveter-type woman pointing a shotgun directly at the viewer. Lucas feels it’s a “powerful, pseudo-feminist” work, and it drew a reaction from viewers she found quite interesting.

“Several females wanted to buy this piece and … said the exact same thing, which I thought was funny and disturbing at the same time,” Lucas said. “They said, ‘I need this for my entryway.’ I thought, ‘Not a welcome mat, not flowers, but this painting of someone pointing double barrels at you?’”

While “Bang Bang,” along with a handful of other works in the exhibit draws an immediate, visceral reaction, others are more pensive. “Ways Forward,” a portrait of a man staring off into an infinite expanse, is the opposite of “Bang Bang.”

“I wanted to create this everyman silhouette … that’s just about introspection,” Lucas said. “I think largely the show embodies a lot of contrast. You have this very ferocious female character and this quiet masculine character.”

“Canaries” is on view at Stone Village Church, which doesn’t have regular hours. To view the exhibit, contact Pastor John Wooden through the church’s website.