"Reinterpreting Mythology: Virginia Derryberry's new show at the Flood is a feast for the eye and the imagination" by David Hopes, Mountain Express, 12/02-12/08, 2009
Derryberry's technique has always been tight, detailed, disciplined and formal, but the effect is here neither cold nor remote. The figures in these paintings, thought caught in the unfamiliar territory of the divine, are compelling, human and immediate. This is Derryberry's most important hometown show so far. Earlier shows, though complete in themselves at the time, were leading to this one, in which every goal she seems to have been setting for herself has been achieved. what tasted merely of strangeness in some of her images now possesses context and provenance; what was cool removal in the expression of her figures is now concentration and serenity. Derryberry can paint mythically. The number in the company is very select indeed.
UNC Asheville Professor, Painter Virginia Derryberry to Hold Solo Exhibition at Flood Fine Arts Center Gallery, excerpt of press release by Jill C. Yarnall, UNC Asheville News Services
The paintings in this exhibition – and in the Rebis series -- are richly saturated with deep colors and incorporate dualism, mythological narratives, and alchemical symbols and colors. The large pieces fuse realism and portraiture with mythic content and alchemical symbolism. The classically composed paintings include symbolic objects and narratives associated with myth. The paintings take new views on such traditional archetypes as Diana, Mars and Venus and the Greek nymph Echo. Three painting from this series are featured in the current edition of the prestigious magazine, New American Paintings.
Adam Justice, curator, William King Art Center, Virginia; essay for Rebis exhibition, 2008
This notion of dualism corresponds with the works of Virginia Derryberry not only because of her intentional exploration of alchemical themes in several of her paintings, but also, and perhaps more commonly, because of her interests in a sense of dualism in both human nature and art. Her inclusion of this idea of rebis can be apparent or implied and can sometimes only be detected by deciphering codes of visual symbols in her work. Couplings dealing with such subjects as the transience of life and impending death, the interaction between the two genders and their opposing characteristics, and spiritual versus secular states are all represented subjects in Derryberry’s works. To impose this idea of dualism on her work from strictly a traditional artistic sense, the rebis can also be found in her abilities to compose and interweave the real and the imaginary, the Classical and the modern, and/or the portrait and the narrative into beautiful equilibriums.
Chris Lawrence, writer, Allegorical Realism at the Green Hill Art Center, Visions, Yes! Weekly, Greensboro, NC, 9/24-9/30, 2008
On the other end of the “realism” spectrum is Virginia Derryberry, whose large portraits are the most photorealistic of the group. This makes the surreal symbolism both more subtle and sharper in contrast. Derryberry’s (figures) are stoic as they hover through the forest, blend into trees or dance with skeletons. Her use of color is also more obvious, occasionally even monochromatic like in the crimson background of “Death in the Maiden/Dia de los Muertos”
Ron Platt, curator, Asheville Art Museum, from catalogue essay for Make It New, 2007
In her Second Nature series, painter Virginia Derryberry intermingles religious and historical narrative with personal content. Derryberry’s friends and family sit for her large scale oil paintings, and though she paints traditionally, the paintings, like Avatar, are multilayered with meaning and are seamless blends of the conventional and the fantastic or surreal. Ceres/Annunciation pairs a woman in a forest clearing, eyes closed, leaning against a tree trunk, with a second figure who appears to be drifting up out of the painting, only their lower legs and feet visible. In this ambiguous scene, Derryberry intermingles a figure from Greek mythology (Ceres, goddess of agriculture) with the New Testament story of Mary receiving news of the immaculate conception. Derryberry links the notions of fertility and regeneration across civilizations and belief systems to find a universal common ground.
Marshall Gordon, writer, Bold Life magazine, North Carolina, 3/2007
(Derryberry’s) meticulously crafted images incorporating realistic figurative portraits within recognizable landscapes have complex underpinnings; art history, legends, mythology, biblical references, personal experience and dreams all play a role in the paintings. Transformation is a major theme running through (her) work…Her current series Second Nature is comprised of strong richly drawn figures that literally float suspended in space, often within the context of an element with its own special meaning—trees, seascapes, skeletons, Garden-of-Eden-like landscapes. Even though her subjects may be dreaming or sleeping, Derryberry’s figures exhibit a level of confidence, power and control that communicates strength and character. There’s no doubt about who these people are—poised, alive, at the peak of being.
David J. Brown, catalogue introduction, Second Nature, 2006
In many of these works (from Second Nature series), I am reminded of the mystery and melancholy in the staged photographs of Gregory Crewdson, and the flying/falling figures in the early paintings of Robert Yarber, as much as historical religious and family portraiture. Derryberry’s strength lies in this merging of the old and new. She paints in a loose style that still allows her forms to congeal into believable forms that wreak havoc with our sense of reality. These forms command attention and cause more questions than answers. Art that has any lasting power plays with ambiguity, not in the sense of our being unable to decipher its meanings but moving between that which is known and that which is expressed. Here, the artist only hints at meaning in these spiritual character portraits , using carefully chosen titles to direct our thoughts to consider those qualities within us that strive towards achieving a greater state of being.
Anna Fariello, exhibition review, SECAC Review magazine, Volume XV, 2006
For those who have followed Virginia Derryberry’s painting over the past twenty years, the exhibition was a confirmation of the artist’s commitment to narrative form and a captivating magic realism couched in the Southern landscape. The painter’s large format works invite the viewer to explore the artist’s mythological environment. This body of work seems to imply that the imagined landscapes portrayed are really part of our own reality, if we only paid closer attention. Larger-than-life figures, most of them youthful and attractive, people lush meadows and forested landscapes. While many figures assume normal human poses, others levitate, challenging expectations of reality.
Benita Heath, exhibition review of Question Reality, Lexington Herald Leader, 9/18/05
A painter who understands the force that makes surrealistic painting authentic and honest is Virginia Derryberry, who offers two spectacular and oversize canvases to the show. In Leap of Faith, Derryberry has rigid bodies hurtling themselves into the shoreline. Just as strong is River Jordan, where raging water carries away three groups of individuals. Each is oblivious to the other, yet all are ruled by the water. Dramatically, it asks the question: How indifferent are we to each other as we live within the cocoon of our own making, even as we face the same conflicts? These canvases dominate the show—no, they really are the show and are worth much study.
Suzanne Stryk, Art Papers, Atlanta, 3/00
Virginia Derryberry’s vision is powered by the myth and belief often associated with Southern art. In the way author Flannery O’Connor’s narratives weave Biblical allusions with fantastic situations, so too does Derryberry exaggerate to get at a greater truth. In Speeding Towards Bethlehem, an element of impending danger lurks: an unmanned boat speeds perilously towards the rocky shore. The disorienting narrative simultaneously alarms and compels, and like a good mystery, we willingly engage in its uncertainties—they may indeed serve as a catharsis to our own anxieties.
Bill Alexander, Art Papers, Atlanta, 5/95
Virginia Derryberry combines a luminist use of paint with a decidedly surrealist conception. Her large canvases (up to 5’ x 7’) unite the strange “little houses” of early Renaissance painters such as Duccio or Giotto with the unease of Magritte. In the most recent work, Herding Instinct, Derryberry collides the “beautiful” luminist style and looser painting to powerful effect. Here the red underpainting shows, and the paint is loosely, almost expressionistically handled…The beauty of this painting can scarcely be exaggerated, nor can the craft combined with skeptical intelligence that informs it, as it does in all of Derryberry’s work.
Susan Knowles, Nashville Scene, 3/16/95
Virginia Derryberry’s strange, brilliant-hued landscapes are daytime dream scenarios. They’re deceptively real, but they’re too brightly lit to resemble twilight and too darkly shadowed to suggest midday. These oil on canvas paintings are lushly rendered, with lots of gloss medium. Derryberry likes to set things awry: She tips our expectations onto one side and unsettles us by suggesting that solid structures harbor threats in their dark interiors. She gives us little to hold onto in her works except the titles, which are usually single words that refer to complex concepts such as “natural selection” and “deconstruction”. Her message is one that many artists, sensitive to the heavy hand that humankind has imprinted on the natural environment, continue to iterate.
Angela Wibking, Nashville Business Journal, 2/27/95
Like (Edward) Hopper, the noted American painter who infused his realistic works with a modernist spirit in the late 1930’s, Derryberry favors sharp, formal composition and harsh contrasts of light and shadow. Like Hopper, her scenes feature buildings with blank windows and empty doors, suggesting both recent human habitation and abrupt abandonment.
Derryberry’s paintings veer away from Hopper’s, however, in her use of color and in her surreal scenarios. Her paintings are not of late night cafes or small town Main Streets, but of strange, Monopoly-house structures set among topiary trees on perfectly manicured lawns.
Suzanna Phelps-Fredette, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 10/2/93
The fantasy scenarios of Virginia Derryberry combine almost super-realistic elements of landscape with odd invented architectural forms and sometimes animals and figures in works that place you squarely in the middle of someone else’s dreamscape. These works use intense colors and receding planes to present a “virtual reality” through which the viewer travels in a strange, slow motion journey. The artist’s worlds are strongly lit from a source which seems both natural and surreal, and the overall effect leaves you feeling like a game piece about to make the round of a fantasy game board whose consequences you cannot predict.
Susan Knowles, Art Papers, 3/92
The landscapes, with their cedar trees, red-tiled roofs and rocky terrain, suggest the ideal Italian compagna as seen in a late afternoon sun’s glow. The mood is one of distanced sadness, tempered with the optimism of an ageless soul. Derryberry makes us aware of the artist’s omniscient presence by showing a viewpoint from above, non-utilitarian buildings (no windows or doors, no automobiles, no inhabitants) and the presence of children with no adults. In so doing, she demonstrates that she is working within a cohesive scheme depicting a symbol world. In her new works, Derryberry has begun investing this world with profound comments on realities we all face: fear of temporality, loss of innocence, and the parallel destructions of our psychic and physical security by forces beyond our control.