JoAnn Verburg believes there are similarities between Spoleto, Italy and Charleston, and Spoleto General Director Nigel Redden agrees. Spoleto is like Charleston where "old buildings endure," he says. Verburg spent her honeymoon in Spoleto at the recommendation of Redden, an old friend. She and her husband, poet Jim Moore, fell in love with the city and returned every year, eventually buying an apartment and becoming part-time residents. Charleston shares a sensibility with Spoleto in that they are cities "sitting between the past and the future," Verburg says. Her photographs illuminate pieces of a historic city that is moving forward, revealing a culture in flux.
Interruptions, organized in conjunction with Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and offered in partnership with Spoleto Festival USA, features recent portraits and large single- and multi-panel architectural prints. This unique exhibit, which will be on display at the Gibbes Museum of Art, is the first time in Verburg's 30-year career that she has photographed the historic streets and bends in the roads of her adopted city, Spoleto. Verburg's previous works have focused on still-lifes, portraits, and trees, and her last solo exhibit was a very successful mid-career retrospective in 2007-2008 at the Museum of Modern Art titled Present Tense.
"This exhibition allows us to showcase a world-renowned photographer while reinforcing the connection between the festival in Charleston and the city of Spoleto," says Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack. "JoAnn Verburg's body of work features the residents and architecture of Spoleto with an emphasis on the intersection between past and present — a concern as relevant for Charleston as it is for the city of Spoleto."
Verburg's transition from trees and still-lifes to buildings and street scenes was inspired by Italian landscapes and the intertwining of the human experience with place. "I see them as really connected," she says.
Working organically and intuitively, Verburg is influenced by Bellini's landscapes and the feeling that place is as evocative as the figure. "The Madonna and Child could be taken out of the painting," she explains, "and you would feel the landscape as deeply."
The large single- and multi-paneled Plexiglas prints are taken with a 19th century, large format, 5x7 camera. Standing under a dark cloth, Verburg manipulates the image and the focus of her subject. In Angle, the camera focuses on the sharp edge of an old stone building. "The texture in her buildings is palpable, tactile," Redden says. A splash of worn red graffiti marks the bottom of the building; old and new are connected. Verburg wants us to think about the importance of space and how cities respond to change. She wants her images to capture the history of place and the way "it's changing all the time." Redden says Verburg's photographs capture the "feeling of timelessness."
Verburg's portraits are not about capturing a moment in time, but the relationship between the print and the viewer. "I'm kind of a midwife," she says. Her images of men and women, young and old are intimate and convey a feeling of timelessness. In "Antonietta," a Spoleto native stares back at the viewer, revealing a face that is lived in, Redden says. In "Blue Jim," the artist's husband, who is a frequent model, closes his eyes, allowing the viewer the freedom to stare, unabashedly, into the contours and lines on his face.
Interruptions is a title from one of her husband's poems and seems to suggest the way the past is interrupted and changed by the future. The crumbly stonewalls of an Italian building are interrupted and replaced with stucco, suggesting a dynamism of time. Verburg's photographs of Spoleto's historic streets capture a sense of permanence, the feeling that this old way of life will endure. —