By ETHAN BLOUCH
Late in January, I noticed something interesting located near the entrance to DuPont: a small gallery of art dedicated to UMW alumnus Travis Head, who currently works both as an artist and as a professor of drawing at Virginia Tech.
Inside, the first thing that drew my attention was the small model wearing what appeared to be a Boy Scout uniform covered in merit badges. There were also several notebooks on the wall directly facing the entrance into the gallery, or photographs of hands holding notebooks. What ended up taking up most of my time, however, was reading the text written on the many detailed graphite drawings on the right and left walls of the gallery.
These drawings, which often shared the common elements of compressing or building up layers of materials, contained many quotes and titles from films and novels, with occasional references to family get-togethers and other life events. On Feb. 28, I got the chance to speak with Head about his art at the closing night of the exhibit.
I had initially believed that some of his works, such as Reading List_ Graphite Reactor and Reading List_ Spirit Level were in some way about the oversaturation of media in our culture, but when we met a few hours before closing reception he explained that this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, what he wanted to do was show all the things we do in life that are peripheral to our main experiences, and to display these experiences in an interesting way.
He made a conscious effort to blend high and low art in these works, so when examining the small text you’ll find references to David Foster Wallace and Christopher Hitchens listed right alongside AMC’s The Walking Dead and the videogame Red Dead Redemption. As a child, he and his stepsister had been encouraged to document experiences in notebooks by their father and is evident in every work in the gallery.
His first work in the series exhibited was a large drawing that contained numerous GPS maps and other information related to a visit he made to a girlfriend a number of years ago, a visit which he says was the last time they were a couple. In his attempt to scramble meaning from information tangential to this experience, he hit upon something which he would combine with his talent for drawing anatomy and figuration into artwork.
With his various journal-based artworks, he said that the pictures were an inside joke by which he would contact friends for a period of time. For example, one picture of him holding a journal with a drawing of brass knuckles was taken while he was in a canoe with another friend. Another theme in his work was related to his fascination with barn quilts, which inspired him to tell stories via showing various events from a year, both broadcast and experienced, through quilt-like images.
His most recent contribution to the exhibit was The Merit Badge Project, which was meant to comment on apps and achievements in modern day society that we connect with seemingly mundane achievements. As part of this exhibit, he framed quilted merit badges for strange goals that he set for himself, such as successfully wearing plaid clothes every day for December.
Many of the people present at the closing reception thought very highly of Head’s work. “He’s a pictorial Proust,” proclaimed William Wachter, who had told Head during a Q and A that he particularly admired Head’s attention to anatomical detail. While observing the Graphite Reactor piece, Christine Goodwin said she was “fascinated by his sense of scale…with the way he makes compositions, it draws you in in a very personal way.”