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Artist ready to 'Rock' with exhibit blending stone sculpture, photography and printmaking

Amy Robinson
Brooklyn-based artist Steve Pauley, who spent his teen and college years in West Virginia, opens "Rock Show" at The Art Emporium Thursday. The exhibit features an interactive sculpture and prints made on light-sensitive paper that capture different reflections of light from the sculpture.
Courtesy photo
"First Light" is one of the prints in Pauley's show. The opaque white in the lower right corner is the edge of the sculpture.
WANT TO GO?ArtWalkWHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. ThursdayWHERE: downtown CharlestonCOST: FreeINFO: (includes list and location of venues)Pauley appears at The Art Emporium on the corner of Hale and Quarrier streets.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steve Pauley stands in a corner of the gallery at The Art Emporium, studying the space. He's trying to figure out how best to display his interactive sculpture, "Echo.""It's the first time I've done something like this," he explained. The piece features a 100-or-so pound oblong granite stone into which an image of a canary in a cage has been etched. The image is intentionally distorted, as the carving is not the focus of the work, but rather the catalyst.When a light is shined from the end of the stone, the image of the bird is projected onto the wall, ensconced in a tunnel of light. The light source is a small lantern, hooked to a mobile pole. Viewers can move it around, seeing how distance and angle play with the image."The question was, 'How do I make it interactive?' I can show you [the effect] with a flashlight, but I'll only be here for the opening," he said with a grin.That opening is during Thursday's ArtWalk, which runs 5 to 8 p.m. at 14 galleries downtown. Pauley's coal-themed exhibit, "Rock Show," remains on display at The Art Emporium through June 16.The show is based around "Echo." There is another sculpture, but otherwise, the remaining works are prints, captured on light-sensitive paper in a darkroom, that show reflections of the stone from various angles. Color has been added to some through a chemical process that reacts to the silver in the paper.
"I was thinking about West Virginia specifically when I made this work. What symbolizes West Virginia more than coal?" said Pauley, who spent his teenage years in Alum Creek and did his first stonework at Curry Brothers Monuments there.
Pauley also attended West Virginia State University and Marshall, earning his B.A. and M.A., respectively, in painting. He later earned his M.F.A. in sculpture from the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art and then moved to Brooklyn, where he's been for the past seven years."I thought about the history here and my history here," he said. "I got invited to have this show, and I really wanted to make this piece. It's been on my mind for years."Two years, specifically. That's how long the 38-year-old artist estimated it took from concept to finished work."The drawing took a long time. I had to get the math right," he explained.With stone, after all, there's no room for error. When Pauley did begin etching, he did so by hand, using a diamond-tipped scribe.That's how he creates his intricate engravings, including one of the earth drawn from the iPhone home screen image. The work, "World Piece," led him to explore this blend of sculpture, photography and printmaking.
He set the stone up in his darkroom and lit it, using a magnifying glass with an LED light on it. The shadow of the image appeared on a wall behind it.The way the engraving interacted with the light, he said, "it really popped off the stone. It was the Earth in shadow, but with detail on it."I thought what if I start with a stretched image first? Will it correct?"He decided to find out. Inspired by Hans Holbein's "The Ambassadors," he did a stretched skull engraving. When lit from the proper angle, a properly proportioned skull appeared on the wall. By blocking out ambient light, he was able to create in-focus prints of the image.When he saw his first print, "It was a eureka moment," he recalled. "It got me fired up. I couldn't believe I had done it."He wants viewers to have that discovery moment, too. He wants them to feel the wonderment he felt. That's why he fiddles with "Echo," testing different ways to prop the stone slab to give viewers the most impact.Reach Amy Robinson at or 304-348-4881.
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