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Vukela-Mayer featured artist for April’s First Friday at Thibault Gallery

From staff reports 

North Carolina artist Joyce Vukela-Mayer has developed a unique method of creating contemporary pieces. Working on a steel canvas, she combines paint and other chemicals to create a reaction that develops, over time, into unique patterns. Sometimes the patterns resemble elements of nature: fish, bubbling water, trees. Sometimes the result is more abstract. 

Vukela-Mayer will be Thibault Gallery’s featured artist at the April First Friday event in downtown Beaufort. 

“She’s different. We always look for artists whose work stands out and it’s not something you’d find down the street,” said Mary Thibault of the Thibault Gallery, where Vukela-Mayer’s paintings are displayed. For instance, unlike most art exhibits’ strictly hands-off policy, Vukela-Mayer’s space at the Thibault features a sign reading “Feel free to touch.” 

When they opened their gallery nine years ago, Mary and Eric Thibault, both artists themselves, wanted to create an open and welcoming space. 

“We wanted to overcome the word ‘gallery,’” Mary Thibault said. Inviting visitors to touch Vukela-Mayer’s paintings is just one example of that vision. 

The gallery owners work to both complement the thriving downtown art scene and to emphasize their gallery’s unique approach. “We’re looking not only at the art, but at the artists,” Mary Thibault said. “We think of our artists as family.” Many artists have exhibited there for years. 

Thibault said that when she met Vukela-Mayer she knew the artist would become part of the “family.” Not only is her art beautiful and inviting, but Vukela-Mayer and the gallery owners derive inspiration from the same source. 

“We have more conversations about God in our gallery than art,” Thibault said. 

Vukela-Mayer didn’t set out to be an artist. She worked for IBM for several years before switching gears to become a general contractor. She was always interested in art, though, and it was something her family encouraged. 

One day, a friend called and said she’d like to get together and work on some art projects. They decided to pray about it first, and Vukela-Mayer returned to some homework she had been doing for a Bible study. The scripture was about two artisans in the Old Testament. 

“What creative project is God calling you to do?” the homework asked. 

Vukela-Mayer took the question as a sign that she should pursue her artistic interests. But it wasn’t easy choosing a medium to express herself. She painted on wood, canvas, and the computer before finding what she refers to as reactive paintings on metal. 

A Pittsburgh native, Vukela-Mayer studied Chemical Engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University. “Engineering, which requires finding solutions to previously unsolved problems, was instrumental in developing creativity,” according to Vukela-Mayer. 

“When I started, I was trying to capture the beauty in nature, which you can’t really do, even with photography,” Vukela-Mayer said. “Now, what I’m doing is capturing beauty through nature.” 

That means using her engineering background to set up a process of oxidation that allows the materials that she uses — metal, paint, chemicals — to combine in their own ways. The result has become Vukela-Mayer’s signature style. After the chemical reactions — often in several layers — are complete, the painting is sealed and then coated with an automotive finish to create a touchable piece that is a departure from the ordinary. 

Vukela-Mayer calls it “Art that is formed in collaboration with the One through whom everything came into existence. My prayer is that everyone sees my artwork will be blessed, and that God will be glorified.” 


What: Artist Joyce Vukela- Mayer 

When: 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, April 1 

Where: The Thibault Gallery, 815 Bay Street, Beaufort 


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