The art of fear


Alexandria artist Suzanne Vigil thinks cockroaches are pretty.

“When you get up very, very close to one, you see that a cockroach is absolutely beautiful. It’s got jeweled tones to it,” Vigil says. “When I show people a cockroach and cover up the head, they look at the body and realize it’s actually beautiful. When people are scared of them it’s because all people normally see is the head and the tail end of the cockroach — the ugly part.”

Some may disagree with Vigil’s view on the attractiveness of cockroach anatomy, but most will agree the insect is an iconic symbol of fear, making it an ideal subject matter for Target Gallery’s Fears and Phobias exhibit

opening January 12. The local artist used color pencils to create “Ick,” a shiny, realistic close-up of a roach that forces viewers to confront their fear — if they have any.

"And Then We Devoured our Young" by Sarah Petruziello. Graphite on paper.

“I want the viewer to have appreciation [for the roach],” she said. “I want them to disassociate themselves with all the negative things and just look at the color and try to get the whole sense of what cockroaches do, if it’s possible without going out of your mind.”
Vigil initially wanted to draw a snake but her fear of the animal made her cringe and shudder as she Googled images online, so rather than recreate her phobia, she drew a universal symbol of horror.

And there are few things more basic to the human condition than fear — it’s relatable, which Assistant Gallery Director Allison Nance knew when she helped choose the exhibition’s theme.

“It’s such a theme that anyone can relate to,” says Nance. “It can be open to anybody but can mean something different to everyone. It can be personal; it can be political.”
Louisville artist John Talbott Allen chose the latter. His piece, “Shrapnel and Battery Acid,” consists of faux IEDs (improvised explosive devices) made from cheerfully colored construction paper. The creation juxtaposes terror felt by American soldiers exposed to the camouflaged bombs with the detached reality the majority of Americans experience when it comes to wars abroad.

“These are objects of terror and fear,” Talbott said. “The whole presence of them drives anxiety and fear, but here in the U.S., it’s just something foreign. I’m trying to bring a discussion to people who don’t really have a connection to soldiers or the war.

"Shrapnel and Battery Acid" by John Talbott Allen. Construction paper and tape.

“I’m trying to bring something that should be important and should be a cause of anxiety, yet when people watch the war on TV, it’s almost a form of entertainment.”

Talbott’s and Vigil’s approaches represent the polar extremes of literalism and metaphor. The exhibit’s juror, Lia Newman of Artspace in Raleigh, N.C., leaned toward metaphorical and abstract pieces when choosing the lineup. She shied away from the blatant interpretations of the theme, like Vigil’s cockroach.

“I was most surprised by the number of artists who chose quite literal approaches in the visualization of particular fears and phobias,” Newman said in her juror’s statement. “When selecting works of art for the exhibition I leaned toward those that were less obvious in their portrayal. I was most interested in works by artists who approached the theme in a more conceptual manner.”

Fears and Phobias opens January 12 and runs through February 19 at Target Gallery inside the Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 N. Union St. Opening reception including a juror’s talk takes place January 12 from 6 to 8 p.m.