On the heels of his first solo exhibition at Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, Ga., Winston-Salem artist Danner Washburn has been tapped to be the first exhibiting artist in a new initiative at Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla.
“Danner’s exhibition is the first in our newest museum initiative to celebrate and support artists of the next generation,” Emory Conetta, assistant curator at Sarasota Art Museum, said of the initiative titled “In the Making.”
Washburn’s show is titled “Effigy: Hemric.” The exhibition is a large-scale installation that will run from Dec. 11 through May 8.
“Effigy: Hemric” is Washburn’s second iteration of a series in which the artist fabricates the lives of tobacco farmers in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina through domestic spaces, which he likes to call “shelters.”
“Washburn first investigates the histories, cultures and lived experiences of these tobacco farmers before constructing their narratives through found and reclaimed objects, both natural and manufactured,” Sarasota Art Museum states on its website. “The immersive installation explores how intangible qualities – psychologies, beliefs, traditions and politics – materialize in constructed space.”
Exhibiting at the Sarasota Art Museum is a big deal.
“It has the potential to really change the course of my career,” Washburn said. “Established artists are shown there.”
Becoming an artist
Washburn, 27, was born in Winston-Salem and grew up in Pfafftown, where he graduated from Reagan High School in 2012 and has an auxiliary studio.
Although he had always been a creative person and enjoyed art classes in elementary and middle school, he didn’t take any formal art classes until his sophomore year in college.
“I was like, ‘I can have a career out of this and not be the starving artist,’” Washburn said.
He received a bachelor of arts in studio arts degree from Furman University and studied abroad in the University of Georgia Studies Abroad Program at UGA Cortona in Cortona, Italy.
While in Italy, his work was shown in the group exhibition La Mostra Spring 2015 Cumulative Exhibition at Palazzo Vagnotti in Cortona.
Washburn said he received a lot of guidance from Mark Taggart, one of his professors in Italy who continues to be a mentor for art and life advice.
After college, he moved to Atlanta for five years. While there, his work in the art field included being the studio assistant for two artists, Kirstin Mitchell and Scott Ingram.
Washburn said his most rewarding experience while living in Atlanta was working for Ingram.
“He taught me a lot about art and the practice of being a professional artist,” he said.
In February, Washburn moved back to Winston-Salem and now has a full time job as a senior marketing coordinator for Stitch Design Shop.
His recent solo exhibit in Whitespec, a contemporary art space at Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, was titled “Tobacco Mosaic Virus (Effigy: Dinkins). He has also exhibited at SECAC 2019 Juried Exhibition at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Gathered IV Juried Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in Atlanta, Ga., among other places.
Over the years, his work has gone through different styles as he tried different mediums.
“Painting was my real bread and butter – oil, acrylic and some water color here and there,” he said of his early work. I was doing abstract (paintings). I was really interested in abstract patterns, a lot about shape and color relation and activating these patterns.”
For his senior thesis project, he painted shaped canvases.
“They were not rectangle. The edge was totally dependent on the actual composition. It kind of blurred the line between sculpture and painting.”
During his time in Atlanta, he got into collecting found objects – from various shapes of plastic to concrete bollards to housing foam insulation – and incorporated them in experimental art.
In quarantine amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic, Washburn started thinking about his own domestic space – how things were arranged and decorated – as well as survival.
“I was questioning whether art and creativity is vital to that,” he said. “My opinion is that it is. You go into someone’s home, and everyone has some form of art for the most part.”
His “Tobacco Mosaic Virus (Effigy: Dinkins) and “Effigy: Hemric” shows grew out of his desire to explore people’s domestic spaces, what the objects mean and how those people are tied to those objects.
“Effigy: Hemric” is a new body of work that focuses on a different tobacco farmer than the one in his Atlanta show, but it has the same overarching concept.
Washburn said his shows are shelters that he considers as effigies of tobacco farmers currently living in the Yadkin Valley.
“The shelter imagines physical representations of those people’s psychologies. What is important to them – their beliefs, their values and traditions, both personally and regionally”.
He added, “Part of my work is looking into the USDA payments that these individuals have received for their tobacco production. I select individuals who since 1995 have received substantial sums of payments. The work imagines an alternate reality where those payments dry up, and they can’t make money off their tobacco production. They’re kind of left in this alternate reality of a bygone affluence.”
He creates his shelters – typical rooms in a house – using found and natural materials with the goal of showing how the tobacco farmers try to build an assemblance of the affluence they once had.
His installation in Sarasota will feature sculptures and paintings.
Two of his pieces are “General Electric,” a sculpture, and “Debbie’s Bounty,” a painting.
“‘General Electric’ is based on the aesthetic and dimensions of a mass-market GE electric range found in many homes across America,” Washburn said. “It is made of various cuts of sapling trees and found industrial wood, and is finished with a white milk paint. GE is a popular American brand with price points that skew toward a middle-class income.”
The painting “Debbie’s Bounty” is a triptych of panels with oil, paper, ink and quarters.
“It depicts an illustration of Little Debbie, of the national snack cake company, combined with church prayer offering sleeves containing $2.25 in quarters in each one,” Washburn said. “That number is what it takes to purchase a sleeve of the snack cakes after tax. These snack cakes are a mass-market dessert item widely sold in rural areas. The church prayer offering sleeves depict illustrations of the Old Testament character Ruth with an accompanying story of her harvesting grain despite being widowed.”
Conetta said that Washburn “is creating this immersive installation that visitors can actually walk in and through.”
She said the Sarasota Art Museum has found that visitors are interested in works that they can be a part of.
“What’s really interesting about Danner’s work is he uses unconventional materials, which are found materials – branches, plastic, different things that he has collected in and around Winston-Salem – in creating a structure that visitors can actually be a part of. He definitely creates work that is unconventional and unique. That’s why we were really interested in presenting his work to our audience here.”