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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

Charlotte Artists-In-Residence At Van Gogh Exhibit Capitalize On Rare Chance To Showcase Work

Laura Sexton art
Works by artist-in-residence Laura Sexton brought Vincent Van Gogh into our present pandemic life.

Three years ago, Laura Sexton started working at Wine & Design in her spare time so she could have a creative outlet for her art. The high school Spanish teacher from Belmont had been going to the art studio as a customer and student for about three years already, but wanted to turn her hobby into something more professional.

Her style began to develop into what she paints today: colorful, dramatic and vivid works of everyday scenes and people.

When Sexton happened to see an Instagram ad earlier this year seeking applicants for an artist-in-residence program for the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit at Charlotte’s Camp North End, her husband encouraged her to apply. What’s the worst that could happen, he reasoned?

“I was kind of hesitant because of not being a quote-unquote ‘real’ artist,” Sexton said.

She was one of about 60 applicants for the program and selected as one of 10 local artists to be featured at the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit to showcase original art, use the space as a studio for a month and contribute pieces that take inspiration from Van Gogh’s work or life.

Charlotte’s artist-in-residence program is triple the size of similar programs staged in other cities for the national touring exhibition, said Bree Stallings, Blumenthal Performing Arts’ director of artistic experiences. That’s thanks, in part, to how well Charlotte ticket sales have gone for the exhibit. But it’s also because Stallings, who has been in her position since March, simply asked.

“Because we have the budget and we had the space, it was like, ‘Let's go for it,’” Stallings said.

Bree Stallings
Photo by Jamie Lucido Photography
Bree Stallings is Blumenthal Performing Arts' director of artistic experiences, and responsible for the artist-in-residence program at the Van Gogh exhibit.

Stallings is a working artist, herself, and when Blumenthal CEO Tom Gabbard asked earlier this year if she was interested in a more permanent position than the consulting jobs she’d done for them in the past, she knew this was an opportunity to make something that would not only fulfill her own creative drive but also employ Charlotte’s talented pool of artists.

“I'm very passionate about making opportunities for other artists,” she said. “I'm trying to think very critically about how to hire things, how to kind of push the envelope a little bit, how to add in these artistic elements.”

Stallings says she’s put 55 local artists to work with the Van Gogh exhibit, doing things like paint murals outside the event space or paint picnic tables set up outside the exhibit for visitors to lounge on — all in the style of or inspired by Van Gogh.

“I hired a lot of street artists because although they are O.G.'s in our community, they often get overlooked for commissions just because of their style of art,” Stallings said. “It's like, ‘Let's do it. I think this is a really modern approach to this kind of conversation.’”

She is especially proud of Charlotte’s artist-in-residence program. When the exhibit was in New York, Stallings said, just eight artists applied for the local program; San Francisco had seven.

“So the 10 that we chose was more than they got applications in these other major cities – which is a big deal,” Stallings said.

Each artist spends a month using a portion of the old Camp North End factory housing the exhibit as their studio space. They’re able to sell artwork, work on creations and get real-time feedback from exhibition-goers and the artists working alongside them.

Laura Sexton
Artist Laura Sexton poses with some of her work displayed at the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit at Camp North End.

The experience has been invaluable, Sexton says. She’s one of the first three artists-in-residence, working alongside Rosalia Weiner and Zaire McPhearson through July 19. Typically, Sexton works out of her daughter’s old bedroom, she said.

“One of the main things I've gotten is confidence because I nitpick over everything,” Sexton said. “But if I've got Rosalia over there on the other side — who's been doing murals for years — she's saying, ‘No, it's done. Don't touch it,’ then I'm like, ‘Maybe it is OK.’

“Whereas my 9-year-old be like, ‘Oh, this part looks wrong.’ So I get confidence in that sense,” Sexton continued. “But also, if I don't know which direction to go with something, I'll be like, ‘Hey Zaire, which of these pictures will look better, which should I try? Or what would make this stand out better?’ And she's got some suggestions.

“And so like just little things along the way, but also like just that support that you need to have the courage to do the art — to keep going and try new things.”

Sexton isn’t sure where her art career will take her next. But having the opportunity to work in the Van Gogh artist-in-residence program has shown her that the work she does is appreciated – sales have gone well, she said.

“It’s a struggle to think about what are we going to do with all this momentum once it ends?” she said. “I've always thought if I could just get people to see (my art), then they would appreciate it. And that appears to be true. But my daughter's bedroom does not make a good place for people to see it otherwise.”

She might be new at this whole art thing, but she’s gaining experience and confidence and excited to see where it all leads.

Laura Sexton's station at the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit displays her original artwork.

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Jodie Valade has been a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE since 2019. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Athletic to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks — where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal — and at The Kansas City Star. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Education from John Carroll University. She is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan.