Big Works
On view through Feb. 28
Robert Lange Studios
151 East Bay St

Early last year Robert Lange Studios held a group exhibition called Small Works, showing paintings as small as 7-x-7 inches and photographs such as Wade Lawrence’s “Drayton Hall Fog,” which packed a lot of atmosphere into a pint-sized print. The show was successful enough to spawn an antithetic sequel, Big Works, with several large canvasses dominating Lange’s modest East Bay Street gallery.

Unsurprisingly, the big scale makes a considerable difference. If an artwork is small then it can draw viewers in, inviting them to peer in search of little details. On a visit to Big Works we’re more likely to stand back and soak in the grand whole. The artists direct our eye to specific details with careful composition and, at times, magnification. Wade Lawrence’s photograph of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder John McEuen doesn’t show us the musician’s face; instead we see McEuen’s hand and part of his banjo, with his leg and the floor in the background. More than half of this 36-x-36-inch image is out of focus, so we have no choice but to center our attention on McEuen’s tender grasp in this strong example of Lawrence’s work.

John Duckworth’s “Chance Encounter” (photograph on canvas) is all out of whack in terms of focus, a blurred streetscape that’s carefully composed but tough on the eyeballs. It’s an optician-baiting extension of his Landscape Abstracts series that graced RLS last summer, a more pleasing example of which is “#16301.” The upper half of this soothing scene shows shades of blue, while the lower half has gentle lines of green, pink, and brown earth.

It seems that Duckworth will never tire of these photographic experiments in mood and color. His abstracts also showed up in Small Works, but they benefit from the wider scope he’s allowed here. The same goes for Robert Lange’s paintings, which include trademark skinny-girl-in-window work (“Collecting Thoughts”). The subject has an enigmatic expression on her face — maybe she’s wondering where she put her pants. “Bathed in Cotton” is another figurative oil on linen that effortlessly marries light and dark elements, echoing the near-monochromatic studies of 17th-century Dutch artist Pieter Claesz.

“Passing Through” brings Lange’s work up to date with a close-up, realist view of a train that seems almost life-size at 24-x-36 inches. All of the gallery owner’s work pays close attention to color and light, contrasting gloomy rooms or shadows with sunlit spaces.

Colorful contributions from Fred Jamar catch the eye, giving familiar landmarks like Cumberland Street’s former Café Lana a movie set twist with blue houses, purple streets, and empty black skies. “Unity Alley” uses a complementary color scheme to create a scene that’s both realistic and uniquely gaudy.

Jamar’s not the only one who likes to look at Charleston from a jaunty angle. Kevin Harrison provides “Pearlz,” a nightscape using oil and acrylic on canvas curved round with a fisheye lens effect. J.B. Boyd’s “Hatfield” favors a cloud-strewn sky over a thin expanse of water, leaving viewers to find their own images in the cumulus. Boyd’s “Red Stakes” is cleaner, complementing Lange’s work by adding a sheen to a multi-hued marshscape.

Kevin LePrince’s “Life in the Sticks” seems thrown in to lure SEWE visitors, and its grungy image of wildlife is a peck above the more traditional depictions of birds in repose available throughout the city this week. Megan Aline’s “Everyday Visual” is an acrylic on canvas piece that fits in with its neighboring paintings only because of its size. Aline makes the subject stand out from the mottled midground, building depth and a feeling of isolation.

2005’s Small Works felt like a pick ‘n’ mix, with a variety of different art for visitors to dismiss or be delighted with. This year, the diversity has been replaced by an air of familiarity. We’ve seen a lot of this kind of work before, either on a different scale or in a different location (Harrison’s at Sanmar Gallery, Jamar’s at Charles II). However, the quality is high and if the success of these exhibitions prompts the artists to tackle some new subjects and techniques, a Medium Sized Works show shouldn’t be long in the coming, and most welcome to boot.

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