Think of a time you have been awestruck by a piece of art. Stopped in your tracks, overcome by an inexplicable feeling that leaves you speechless. A surprising moment that can solidify or redefine how you see art.
That is just how I felt during a recent trip with my photography class to the Sechrest Gallery at High Point University. Their current exhibit, Merry Moor Winnett: Photographic Personal Perspective, is a retrospective of a beloved former Guilford professor and her work. The exhibit holds 45 of the hundreds of surreal photographs she created overtime, each specifically displayed to show the progression of her work and life. Our class was incredibly lucky to have toured the gallery with Cherl Harrison, High Point University photograph professor and one of Merry’s close friends. She was able to give us a peek behind the scenes of every picture, explaining her process and inspirations.
As I walked from picture to carefully chosen picture, I was enamored. Almost all of her works are hand-painted photographs, compiled from exposing multiple negatives. She effortlessly created fantastical scenes; of women slowly fading into a window, of the moon resting in a field, of a Pegasus flying over palm trees. Her pieces are playful, experimental, and expressive. They present unfamiliar scenes evoking familiar emotions.
Continuing to browse in my happy and awed state, I began to notice more and more detail in her pieces. Glitter, embroidered string, coins, and layers of fabric simply adorn her work, reinforcing the playful yet meticulous hand of Merry. I found myself drawn to the pictures that were the most unconventional. I stood and stared at one piece, called First and Second Lutheran Churches, for a while. Thin pieces of pastel colored fabric hovered and hugged a piece of photo paper, stitched together with thread. This picture is nondescript, with no clues other than its title, but evokes layers of emotion, from calm to sadness.
On the other end of the spectrum, another work I found myself most attracted to was called The Left One Left. This portrays her bare chest immediately following her mastectomy, the image repeated and layered several times. Framing the pictures are carnations and nails in alternating corners, providing an unexpected but understood juxtaposition. Much of Merry’s work in this show balances life and death, a direct response to her struggle with breast cancer. Merry passed away in 1994 while she was teaching at Guilford, leaving behind a beautiful collection of work, but many unanswered questions, particularly about what shape her work would have taken with the progression of photographic technology like Photoshop. However, what she made is nothing short of incredible.
Feel inspired yet? Merry’s work will be on display at the Sechrest Gallery until February 27th. Her moon series pieces are also on display on the third floor of Frank. To learn more about her and see her work, visit http://www.merrymoorwinnett.com