Great Big Paintings

Opens Tues. Nov. 25, 6-8 p.m.

Gaillard Municipal Auditorium

77 Calhoun St.

(843) 577-7400

Thinking big is nothing new for Fletcher Crossman.

Several years back, the artist, frustrated with a successful though unfulfilling life of “painting wine bottles and ballerinas,” took a giant step back from his own work, sized it up, and asked himself why he felt so distant from it.

“I didn’t want to just eke out a living,” he says. “I wanted to make personal and political statements, to address contemporary issues. Finally, I asked myself, ‘What am I waiting for?'”

He withdrew his work from galleries and set to work repainting his own path as an artist from scratch.

The change in his artistic style — a change both in subject and scale — is realized today in a series of massive canvases set to debut on the walls of the Gaillard Auditorium. Chalk it up in part to inspiration from its sheer size.

“Smaller work tends to get lost at the Gaillard because it is so large,” Crossman says. “I really liked the idea of trying to transform such a big space.”

Not only are the individual canvases enormous — as in each dwarfs a person standing upright — but the subject matter is provocative and stirring.

There’s a compelling edge to the images: deep, rich, nocturnal colors and a strange mix of expressions on the faces of the subjects. These are the kind of paintings that invite viewers to wonder what the people in them have, what they just finished doing, and what is going to happen next.

And thinking deeply about Crossman’s paintings is exactly what a group of students at Academic Magnet High School, under the tutelage of language arts teacher Junius Wright, have been doing in preparation for the opening of The Great Big Paintings exhibit.

“The students are creating imagery based on their interpretation of what the work is about,” Crossman says. “That will be projected over the paintings and the walls at the opening. It is a wonderful project that’s not only encouraging the students to think about art but is also familiarizing them with the process of putting together an art exhibit.”

“We’re really excited about having the exhibit here at the Gaillard,” says Cam Patterson, director of special activities for the City of Charleston. “Working with local artists is something we enjoy very much. And having the students contribute to the opening is an added bonus.”

Six of Crossman’s large paintings have been installed at AMHS for the past month, and students in the creative writing and European literature classes have been preparing responses that will be “fused” with the exhibit in a multimedia display during the opening.

“It’s interesting, as an artist, to see how others interpret your work,” Crossman says. “A lot of the responses the students have come up with really made me think.”

All of which has the UK-born artist contemplating his next project.

“I’ve thought a lot about traveling exhibits and transforming large outdoor spaces,” he says. “That’s partly the American influence. There’s this sense of being in the wide open.

“What I’ve learned is that you can’t worry about what critics might say. You need to be honest with yourself about your work. As soon as you start to second-guess yourself or appeal to whatever you think might be more popular, you’re only limiting yourself.”

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