Love is a many rendered thing at Loudoun House exhibit

Embrace Me, So Big You Can't Get Around It by Tyler Mackie of Portland, Ore., is part of Love and Things Like Love. Touching it is encouraged.
Embrace Me, So Big You Can't Get Around It by Tyler Mackie of Portland, Ore., is part of Love and Things Like Love. Touching it is encouraged.

In the center of the Loudoun House is a great big, fluffy heart.

It's so big, most people can't get their arms around it, but that's exactly what you're supposed to try to do with this huggable artwork by Tyler Mackie.

Embrace Me, So Big You Can't Get Around It is made of pink and red lingerie and is embellished with knit work, doilies and a crystal or two. It feels like a cushy explosion of saccharin femininity and is an iconic piece in the Lexington Art League's latest exhibit, Love and Things Like Love. It opens Friday night at the art league's Fourth Friday event.

Curator Becky Alley says that she likes delving into artwork that connects viewers with universal themes and that perhaps no theme is more universal than love.

"While the topic of love has the potential to be trite and overly sentimental," Alley says, "many artists working today are addressing love with insight and fearless honesty."

Mackie's work both invites and warns against overly sentimental interpretations of love.

"I like taking pretty to a level of beautiful disturbance," Mackie, of Portland, Ore., says in her artist statement. "Pretty entices through its loud, bedazzled and laced adornment, beckoning the viewer to approach."

It's a good thing Mackie's piece is considered interactive because it's tempting to touch what feels like a giant, ironic valentine. Perhaps the work's allure suggests that, when it comes to experiencing love, we cannot resist wanting to embrace what we know to be a heap of clichés.

Mackie is one of 49 artists to take on the subject of love, a broad subject whose various modes and incarnations are explored in a diverse array of subjects and materials, including painting, drawing, sculpture and interactive media, including video installations.

The subject's broadness was inspiration and challenge for Alley's curating, which includes invitation and juried works.

When she put out the call for new work, Alley says, "I had no idea what I would get."

More than 1,100 individual works were submitted for consideration. As Alley sifted through them, themes began to emerge.

"Themes of loss, ephemera, longing, intimacy, disconnect, unconditional love, comfort, turmoil, dissatisfaction, seduction, desire, nostalgia and regret are all woven throughout the show," she says.

Alley arranged the exhibit so that works of similar themes or those that spark a dialogue between each other are in the same space.

For instance, one room contains works that speak heavily toward maternal love, featuring reflections on the love of mothers and grandmothers. It includes The Saddest Day, a suite of photographs by Jenny Fine of Columbus, Ohio.

As a child of farmers, Fine remembers when all of her family's pigs became sick and had to be slaughtered on the same day, which came to be known in family lore as "the saddest day." The day Fine's grandmother was pronounced ill in 2008 replaced the childhood episode as the new "saddest day."

Fine used her art to work out her emotions.

"I created The Saddest Day, a series of photographs mythically documenting the moments following my family's return home to the farm after our first trip to the emergency room, two weeks before my grandmother died," Fine writes in her artist statement. "Initially, these images were created as a re-enactment of a family story. However, today they seem to be about her leaving."

Grief, loss and longing can be experienced in many of the exhibit's works, but so can solidarity, exposure and acceptance. Take Home Stretch by Jillian Ludwig of Lafayette, Ind., a drawing that features one elephant carrying another elephant slumped on its back. The two are exhausted but determined-looking, and they're bound together by a chain of delicate flowers.

"This is a rich show," Alley says of the exhibit's thematic and technical depth. "I believe this show has the power to affect people at their core and I hope that viewers allow themselves to be stirred by what they see."