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What Artists Discovered About Covington in Crafting New Exhibit

You’re the gallery director at Covington’s community arts center and you want to open the 2015-2016 visual arts season celebrating the city’s bicentennial (COV 200). What to do?

You create two exhibits, We, Covington and Extra Credit: Documenting Higher Level Art 2008-2015. Opening Sept. 11 with a free reception from 5:30-9 p.m., the shows continue through Nov. 21.

We, Covington sent artists out into the city for months this summer, to meet people who live and work here; Extra Credit (in the upstairs galleries) focuses on the murals created by local art collective High Level Art (HLA) in Covington Independent Public Schools since 2008.

Matt Distel, Carnegie exhibitions director, says the intent of both shows is to examine Covington's history and communities through art, “to draw connections across generations of Covington residents and the neighborhoods in which they live and work.”

We, Covington, organized by Terence Hammonds, features new works: Fifty screened porcelain portraits of people living and working in the neighborhood by Hammonds (which he hopes will find a home in a public building after the exhibit closes); Tim McMichael’s monumental (20-feet), four-panel cityscape layered dust and volcanic ash to create the final image; Wally German and Harmony Denlinger contribute photos of Covington neighborhoods;

Covington native Anissa Lewis used her memories and experiences of her hometown to create an altar piece of sorts. She grew up on and around Pleasant Street, graduated from Holmes High School and moved on for college and a career. 

Lewis was away for more than a decade before she moved back to the region and, she says, and when she returned to Pleasant Street, “half the houses were gone, it had this haunted feeling.” 

Her photo collages “have images of family members who have passed” superimposed on photos of her old neighborhood now. 

The artists take The River City News deeper into We, Covington

RCN: What was your approach?

Denlinger: I knew I wanted to focus on the history of Covington, the past and present. My pieces look at Fulton Whiskey, which (operated) until Prohibition forced the distillery to shut its doors. Another is Stewart Iron Works, founded in Covington in 1886, and still making fences today.  

McMichael: ‘Covington as place' was my subject matter. I spent some time walking the streets, taking some pictures and seeing what came to mind. And I’ve been spending time in the studio working with a sedimentary process, exploring time and place. The result is a panorama that reflects the viewer in the silhouette of Covington’s skyline.

Hammonds: I work at Rookwood Pottery and I’ve been exploring techniques of printing onto ceramics. My work wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity if Marilyn Wade and Rookwood Pottery.

RCN: What have you discovered about Covington?

Hammonds: As I walked around, I saw a lot of abandoned homes, a lot of people have left.  I talked to a cross-section of people who live and work here at this moment. There were amazing conversations, they’re proud to be here.

McMichaels: Covington seems to have many micro-communities whose ‘borders' are starting to blend back into a larger community. 

Lewis: I wonder how it is re-inventing itself. What is its identity now? What unites the community? That’s what I’m still searching for. 

Extra Credit will be anchored by a new mural painted directly onto the walls of the Duveneck Gallery, simulating a classroom setting and representative of the more than 60 works HLA has painted in classrooms throughout the Covington Independent Public Schools.

Those murals, says Distel, “run the gamut – they really do,” each themed by Dayton-based HLA for the subject and students. Distel thinks about “how many kids go through those classrooms – art is reaching an entire generation of Covington school kids.”  

The exhibit includes photos, video, and time-lapse photography highlighting HLA’s process for each new installation. Members of HLA, including Danny Babcock, Scott Beseler, Robby Burgess, Matthew Dayler, and Jules Itzkoff, will have individual works on view.

We, Covington and Extra Credit: Documenting Higher Level Art 2008-2015, Sept. 11-Nov. 21. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. Opening reception: 5:30-9 p.m. with artist talk at 5:30 p.m. Gallery hours: 12-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. 12-5 p.m. 859-491-2030 and www.thecarnegie.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts