‘Queer as Folk’-inspired art and disembodied heads at UNG Oconee art gallery

On Nov. 15, UNG’s Oconee campus hosted “Transfers III,” an artist talk and reception displaying the work of three visual arts faculty members. The exhibition features work from Paul Dunlap, Jen Graff and Laura West.

Inspired by the portrayal of gay and lesbian life in the television series “Queer as Folk,” Dunlap sought to extend representation of the LGBTQ community from urban settings to rural Appalachia.

“Gay and lesbian and transgender life is depicted as sort of an urban phenomenon,” Dunlap said. “I’ve lived in southern Appalachia all my life and no one was telling our story. And it felt like it certainly was a story worth telling.”

He ultimately decided to tell this story through a series of mixed media quilts. Transferring his photographs to linen, Dunlap attached his images to canvas. Throughout the project, Dunlap gathered groups of friends to help sew the images to canvas backings.

Dunlap’s integration of rural elements often relates to the nature associated with the region. He began each project by asking his model about their connection to Appalachia.

“It almost always has something to do with the landscape,” Dunlap said.

In addition to referencing the elements of the land, each piece contains fabric that once belonged to the model.

For “Paul,” Dunlap combined a self-portrait taken in a field of kudzu and a tattered shirt evocative of the kudzu blossom.

For the piece titled “Rev. Frank Colladay,” Dunlap used a photo of Colladay in a reservoir and an aquatic color scheme. Dunlap noted that the setting adheres to the religious theme of baptism. He continued this theme by employing materials that resemble a stained-glass window.

“Levi” features the model atop a bale of hay. Throughout the quilt, Dunlap integrated a dog tag, a pair of jeans and a deconstructed Coach bag, all contributed by the model.

After Dunlap presented his pieces, Graff discussed her recent collection of sculptures, which deviates from her previous work in pottery. Graff called her recent shift in subject liberating.

“I think it defeats the purpose of being an artist,” Graff said, “if you’re not liberated and free to make what you want.”

Her current project depicts disembodied heads fastened together into sculptures.

“I don’t have anybody in mind when I make the faces,” Graff said. “And that’s what is fun about it, to see these faces of people out of nothing.”

Graff concluded her discussion with a word of advice to the art students in the room.

“You’re going to what you’re going to do because you’re a creative being,” Graff said. “Seek help from other artists. That’s been the most gratifying thing about the switch is the support from other artists.”

While West was unable to attend the reception, her installation piece contributed to the atmosphere of the room.

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