image courtesy Page Bond Gallery
The trumpet-shaped flowers of the otherworldly brugmansia resemble the speaker of a gramophone or part of an antique time travel machine. The blossoms face the ground like the angelic trumpets that wake the dead in the tarot judgment card. In the expert hands of artist Willie Anne Wright, whose "Brug Mania" exhibition at the Page Bond Gallery runs June 6 to July 7, the flower becomes its own portraitist, while it also often appears to be in communion with people trapped by light in long-ago photographs.
Wright is best known hereabouts as a pinhole photographer of Civil War reenactors, whose images are like glimpses of ghosts, and of decrepit abandoned buildings that appear alive. In this series, however, Wright says, "I just got rid of the camera. The flowers basically take their own picture." Like many of the major turns in her long career, which began in the 1960s while a student of Theresa Pollak at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University and VCUArts, the school Pollak founded), this series emerged over time through experiment. At first, she was a narrative painter, and because some of her works were mistaken for silk screens, she branched into printmaking. She began photographing for documentation purposes. The pinhole, introduced to her in a class at VCU, seemed at first a chore to construct, but revealed itself to Wright as elegant in its simplicity. Thanks to the wave of photographers switching to digital, "I inherited all this developing paper and stuff from people, and I wanted to put some of it to good use."
Her personal "brug mania" came over her in 2006 with a friend's gift of a plant that Wright named "BoBo." The exotic pods and scent compelled her to record them, first using the pinhole camera. She preserved the flowers in wax paper pressed into an encyclopedia. In 2009, she started to use lumen prints on photographic paper in sunlight. Wright learned that brugmansia is also called "angel's trumpet," and in its native South America, Amazonian people used parts of the plant during rituals to induce hallucinations. But it's also poisonous, a relative of deadly nighshade plants. Wright's images are indeed transcendent. She shares the gallery with MFA candidates and recent graduates, which is fitting, as her work continues to reveal new perspectives. 359-3633 or pagebondgallery.com .