Moods, relationships, community, friendships. What do they look like? How do you capture them on paper? How does one put a face on feelings and inanimate objects?
Artist Avis Fleming believes she accomplishes just that with her figure drawings. In her collection of drawings, "Sunday Series: African American Images," Fleming illustrates emotion and attitude and takes the traditional portrait to new heights. The 21-drawing series opens tonight as the feature exhibit at the Alexandria Black History Resource Center. The center will celebrate Fleming's work with a free reception, open to the public, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Using gestural drawing techniques, Fleming bends lines and manipulates curls to depict her subjects in the everyday moments of life. While her models pose in a studio, on paper, Fleming places them in a setting that suits the mood of the pose.
"Sunday Stroll" for example, shows models Bill Hutton, Marye Elizabeth Carter and her daughter, Camille, looking beyond the frame into a colorful brush of a tropical park. Beneath their feet lies a grayish trail, sprinkled with stones.
The series is a culmination of three years of work by Fleming, who has worked for several years with African American models in the figure drawing class she teaches at the Art League School at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Working simultaneously with her students, Fleming invents settings that take her subjects beyond their pose.
"The series just happened," Fleming said. "I created the situation in each drawing."
Fleming takes advantage of the character that touches of color can add. Swirls of lavender, green and purple accent the upright stature of model Georgia Mickens in "Sunday Chiffon." Dabs of beige and pastel pink in the background frame Hutton and Mickens in a way that gives the sense that the two are focusing attentively on people beyond them.
"This is a comfortable series of actions to react to," Fleming said in describing the drawings. "The models created the series."
Though her artwork features people, Fleming does not classify the drawings as portraits. Calling them portraits does not capture the freedom and movement she aims to reflect in her work, she said.
"I'm not interested in static drawings or exactitude," Fleming said. "I'm showing expressive moments in an ordinary day."
"Sunday Series" is a tribute to the friendship Fleming shares with the models featured in her works. In the years that Hutton, Carter and Mickens have posed for Fleming's class, the group has established a comfort so close that each regards the others as family.
"These three models help me get across a sense of freedom," Fleming said. "All three have extremely expressive faces."
Each of the models has a deep interest in art. Hutton, 64, a retired IBM project manager, restores old houses. Mickens, 76, is a trained sculptor. Carter, 45, works as an assistant facility manager at George Washington Recreational Center in Fairfax but dances in her free time.
While posing, the models become involved in the lessons, looking at the students' drawings and taking note of Fleming's instructions.
"The models arrange themselves so the poses are interesting in the room," Fleming said. "They become part of the class."
Fleming has taught drawing and painting at the Art League since 1987. She and her family lived in Alexandria for 21 years before moving to an eight-acre farm in Middleburg in 1987, where she and her husband, Paul Hodge, enjoy tending to their two steers and three ponies.
Fleming's work has been exhibited throughout the metropolitan area. The most recent is "Natural Observations," showing at the National Horticultural Society in Alexandria.
Audrey Davis, curator at the Alexandria Black History Resource Center, decided to exhibit Fleming's work after receiving a recommendation from another artist. When Fleming came in to share her series with Davis, she was immediately taken.
"I was so compelled by the story she told of her relationship with the models," Davis said. "The drawings feel so alive."
"The Sunday Series: African American Images by Avis Fleming" is on display through March at the Alexandria Black History Resource Center, 638 N. Alfred St., with an entrance on Wythe Street. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.