Carbon plus paper: the simple equation that yields a charcoal drawing; the simple equation that September Vhay makes transcendent in her summer exhibition, Essence. By her hand, a leopard appaloosa becomes a massive study in graphic abstraction, each spot a meditation on shape and subtlety. Dark patches, the result of pressing hard on the page, send sprays of charcoal down the paper, scatterings she leaves as subtle evidence of her process.Sans color, the paint horse becomes a homage to composition and value—formal characteristics often overshadowed by their flashy counterparts, color and subject. Not by Vhay: She bears witness to the episodes in nature when expression and composition come into immaculate, ephemeral alignment. As they did in an alfalfa field on her parents’ ranch in Nevada: Vhay watched, through her telephoto lens, as two mule deer fawns frolicked after their mother.
A low fence, hardly an impediment for her graceful stride, stopped the spindly pair. Quintessentially curious, they considered the blockade in front of them, a foreign concept it seemed. They studied it in unison. Vhay held her breath. Then one, from a standstill, bounded over. A pause before the second followed and the two resumed their maternal pursuit. And yet, it was the decisive moment just before the first jumped that Vhay chose to capture on canvas, when the fawns’ curiosity suffused the scene, even their stance. “There is a moment when I fall in love with what I’m seeing,” Vhay says. “That’s when I know there is a painting. It’s completely intuitive. There is an expression I’m working to capture and a balance in the composition.”
Recognizing the fawns’ curiosity as the driving force of the painting, Vhay removes everything else—the fence, the alfalfa field, all literal clues. Thus the viewer focuses on that expressive essence, unfettered by setting, invited to interpret. The inquisitive fawns inspire the viewer to be the same—to apply their curiosity and creativity to the scene, to write their own story. As one boy did at Vhay’s last exhibition opening at Altamira. When she asked him which painting was his favorite, he responded: “‘I like the horse with the spots, but you forgot to paint the rest.’”
Vhay wants collectors to feel as empowered as the boy: to arrive at her paintings through their own sense of wonderment. Eschewing an exhibition theme, she embraces the nuance of her practice, the time she has invested in her aesthetic trajectory—different from yet informed by the architecture she studied around the world—the care required of making painting a profession. For Vhay, each work represents a distillation of nuance, a focus on the subtle, the gestural. Moving across the spectrum of scale—from small oil paintings to imposing charcoals—she responds to the character within each composition, patiently articulating graphic characteristics. “It’s not quick. It’s not flashy. It’s nature. It’s finding those moments in time and expressing them—that’s what I do.”
Essence runs from June 11 to 23 at Altamiria Fine Art; Vhay celebrates with collectors at an Artist Reception on June 22. For more information on the exhibit and Vhay, please contact Altamira Fine Art by email (connect@AltamiraArt.com) or phone (307-739-4700).