“No hugs, NO kisses” by Johanna Virgil

By Bridgette M. Redman | May 12, 2021

When Johanna Virgil learned about the Scottsdale art project “I Am You, You Are Me: Portraits,” she knew exactly which photograph she wanted to submit.

“I thought I’d enter that portrait, because it is very dear to me,” says Virgil, a Goodyear resident.

Hers was one of 30 portraits selected for the juried show at the Scottsdale Civic Center Public Gallery inside the library at 3839 N. Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale. They will be on display through June 21 and are also viewable on the website at scottsdalepublicart.org.

Virgil, who often takes desert landscape photos while outside hiking, also shoots portraits as a way of trying to capture her special moments.

The portrait she submitted, “No hugs, NO kisses,” captured her family’s recent emotional moment. Two days before Christmas 2020, her father-in-law was hospitalized with COVID-19. It quickly progressed, and he had to be intubated. He spent a month in the hospital, isolated from all family members.

“We were all sure we were going to lose him,” Virgil says. “It was very grim.”

Fortunately, he survived, and the intubation strengthened his lungs. He was eventually released and went home. It had its toll on him. He lost more than 70 pounds, is on oxygen, and needs a wheelchair to get around. Virgil says he has a phone that couldn’t FaceTime.

Finally, in late February, after a home-based 15-day quarantine, the family saw him separated by a glass arcadia door. And, as the title of the photo said, there were no hugs or kisses between father and son or grandfather and the grandson who was born in 2020. The grandfather has never held him.

“There are no hugs and kisses for grandfather, not just in that picture but in the whole year,” Virgil says. “We haven’t been able to do any physical contact.”

Virgil took only a couple photos so she could enjoy the moment, she says. She did very little post-production editing other than burning a few areas for effect and enhancing the grandfather’s face.

“When I made it black and white, it truly made you home in on the moment, the emotion, the grandfather’s face,” Virgil says.

“You are really not distracted by anything else. I wanted to really be able to see the dramatic change in the photograph that I know is there in real life.”

With a BFA in photography from ASU, Virgil has a longtime interest in the medium. Her father was an avid photographer, and she grew up surrounded by photos and taking them herself.

“Photographs are like stealing a moment in time,” Virgil says.

“Time waits for nobody, and you can’t control time, but with photography you can. It’s this magical arena of capturing a moment, and I love that.”

The Scottsdale exhibit boasts paintings, photographs, collages, sculptures and textiles. Artwork includes self-portraits and images both abstract and representational.

“When someone is rendering a portrait, the line between the artist and the sitter are blurred, and the portrait is a representation of the relationship between artist and sitter, however brief or lengthy,” says Wendy Raisanen, Scottsdale Public Art’s curator.

“There’s energy exchanged between these people. How the artist feels about and truly sees the subject is shown in the artwork.”

One set of artists collaborated and created humorous portraits of each other holding dogs and posing with their artwork.

Other artists in the exhibition include Susan Allred (Tempe), Laura Amphlett (Phoenix), Neil Borowicz (Tempe), Rebecca Clark (Tucson), Dana Corbo (Scottsdale), Turner Davis (Phoenix), Katherine Del Rosario (Tempe), Jerome Fleming (Phoenix), Becky Freshe (Tacoma, Washington), Lex Gjurasic (Tucson), Dain Q. Gore (Laveen), Ira Grin (Chandler), Tiesha Harrison (Phoenix), Jane Kelsey-Mapel (Phoenix), Lilach Keren (Scottsdale), Galya Kerns (Litchfield Park), Kathi Knox (Phoenix), Brianna Noble (Phoenix), Eliza Plumlee (Tucson), Kara Roschi (Phoenix), Alexandra Ross (Mitchell, Manitoba, Canada), William Touhey (Tucson), Chris Vena (Tempe), Ingrid Wells (San Francisco) and Wendy Willis (Phoenix).

“I Am You, You Are Me: Portraits”

When: Through June 21

Where: Scottsdale Public Library Gallery, 3839 N. Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Cost: Visit website for information

Info: scottsdalepublicart.org