Recent Works: Yvette Dede,Erik Johnson, Sharon Lacey, and Lynne Riding

On view through Sept. 22
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art54 St. Philip St., 953-5680
About once a year, students at the College of Charleston’s Studio Art Department get a special treat. One or more of their teachers put their own work up for scrutiny at the Halsey, baring their best efforts for the students and public to view. The show has to work on two levels — one, as a platform for their talents and a validation of their teaching tools and methods; and two, as a satisfyingly kick-ass art exhibition that will lure the public into the gallery. After all, this exemplifies the best of the teachers’ current work at the pinnacle of their academic profession thus far, with the kind of quality that their students are working toward.
Recent Works adequately meets most of those requirements. The artists give a hint of what they’re capable of. It’s great for the students to be able to see and discuss this work. But as a show in a major art forum and the first that the Halsey’s presented for two months, this group show doesn’t kick much ass at all.
Perhaps it’s the subdued art styles of all four contributors that make this a muted affair. The most colorful, imaginative work comes from Erik Johnson, a CofC mainstay who works as a sculpture instructor and studio manager. He’s fond of taking his creative cue from his everyday environment, using sticks, old toys, and bits of furniture to give his work extra resonance. A good example is “See You When I Get Home,” an eclectic sculpture made of cast iron, aluminum, bronze, wood, fabric, steel, and enamel. A theme is suggested by a miniature male and female figure all set to travel somewhere, although the man might be slowed down by a dent where his heart should be. There’s also a rowboat on a cushion and a rusty, multi-holed vessel, all connoting a voyage.
Johnson melds manufactured and natural objects in unexpected ways, defying gravity as he balances old boots and tree branches against adjustable wrenches or giant, broken eating utensils. Johnson’s work is meticulously unpolished to give it a memorably naïve edge. In keeping with his teaching, it’s inclusive art; instead of showing viewers what they aren’t capable of yet, the artist suggests that they, too, could have a go at creating sculpture using objects that are familiar to them.
Lynne Riding, who teaches painting and drawing, also draws inspiration from found objects. While some might find a discarded piece of string easy to ignore, she extrapolates a grubby knot or loop to create oil on linen images.
Her series of abstracts leave a lot of room for interpretation. By supersizing some of her paintings she gives her subjects greater validity, but like an incredible shrinking woman it’s the small and insignificant that Riding is really fascinated with, from a broken piece of twine down to a microcosm of cracks and molecules. At least that’s what the vaguely spherical shapes in “Untitled” suggest, with unraveling lines counterpointing a large, pale egg.
Sharon Lacey has moved on from the cruciform series that filled the Dock Street Theatre’s City Gallery this spring. A couple of her better cross pieces are in the show, along with some ghostly figurative work. She uses the same nocturnal style and palette to paint more appealing work. In “Sacer,” a woman blends into the background, with suggestions of other figures on the right hand side of the canvas. Lacey uses dirt colors for the background of “Soiled,” hemming a nude woman into the lower half of the painting. Her face is suggested by two dark, round eye sockets that give her a ghoulish appearance.
Yvette Dede’s major work in this exhibition is a mess of Western cultural “Objects Extraordinaire”: a baby doll, a football helmet, tools, and knickknacks. The objects are grouped by size — largest on the left hand side, smallest on the right, with the tiniest grouped in an attempt to suggest that the everyday things are exploding towards the viewer. Dede’s close attention to shadow and detail are admirable, yet like Recent Works as a whole, the overall impression is flat and mostly uninspiring. Maybe the show will work in the same way as Johnson’s sculptures, inviting students to create their own work without daunting them with anything breathtaking.

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