Culture- ART FEATURE- <b>The write stuff: SSG spreads the love</b>

First, a disclaimer: Although I don't discuss it below, I, your humble art scribe, collaborated with artist Jen Van Winkle on a piece included in "Love Letter Invitational," Second Street Gallery's summer exhibition. 

How did I get off the page and into the gallery? Credit (or blame) Leah Stoddard. The SSG director wondered what would happen if area visual artists collided– and colluded– with local writers. So she invited a range of artists each to choose an author with whom to produce up to three pieces on the theme of "love." 

The resulting show features 41 pieces created by 59 artists, including luminaries like John Casey, Dean Dass, Rita Dove, and Gregory and Trisha Orr. The literary side is heavy on poetry, but the innovative ways verse and visuals combine run the creative gamut. 

Along the gallery's west wall, photographer Jon-Phillip Sheridan has constructed an untitled environment, where one of his luminous industrial images hangs above poet Kimberly Philley's "Truck Stop Love Letter," laid out on a formica-topped table. Nearby Sharon Shapiro and Shannon Worrell's intriguing stop-action animation, "The Rag Rug, After the Poem by Ted Hughes to Sylvia Plath" plays on an iPod set within a deep frame (its exterior painted hot pink) that effectively creates a small black box theater for viewing.

Often a "call and response" relationship ties together discrete writings and images, but in the most interesting works, the words and visuals coalesce. Clay Witt and John Casteen IV's "Fames Optimum Condimentum" offers an evocative poem by Casteen engraved on three oxidized copper plates that look as if excavated from overgrown ruins. At the top of the center panel, a raised knot of ganglia stretches inky indigo and bright copper tentacles vining to the left and right.

Two other successful collaborations encourage viewers to take the art home. Paul Curreri and Browning Porter's "Love Poem/Merch Table" presents Curreri's stylized jar of peaches against a lichen-green background as a logo for Porter's gorgeous poem, "'Fall in love,' we say, as if love were beneath us." The two have recorded the poem as a CD with accompanying sticker and T-shirt, all available for $25.

Likewise, the 12 postcards featuring distinctively non-Hallmark images and verses about obsessive love that make up Alyssa Salomon and Jorn Ake's deliciously dark "Cartes Postales d'Amour" are for sale individually or as a group.

It turns out, when it comes to love, local artists and writers have much to say that's worth seeing.

"Love Letter Invitational" is on view at Second Street Gallery through August 12. During the show, SSG has transformed its Dové Gallery into a creative salon, complete with art materials, where inspired viewers can create their own artworks exploring love. 115 Second St. SE (in the Charlottesville City Center for the Arts). 977-7284.