Rebekah Jacob manages to pack a big punch in the small, narrow space of her King Street gallery. Opening on the well-worn heels of Spoleto and running through July, Summer displays works from a compelling group of young, contemporary, male Southern artists.

Jacob doesn’t like to impose a theme on her artists, but the summer vibe must have subconsciously evoked a steamy palette for many of them. Brian Rutenberg’s large-scale oil paintings are thick with vibrant colors, and even Tim Hussey, whose work is often filled with heavy black lines of charcoal, includes splashes of purple and red in his recent work. The colors of summer are a dominant theme for most. Also included in the exhibit are Kendall Messick, Timothy Pakron, and Benjamin Hollingsworth, and Kevin Taylor.

Pakron recently relocated to New York City, and if his latest work is any indication, the big city is going to be great for his career. Pakron is a photographer by trade whose complex process involves the manipulation of black-and-white photographs to create a dripping effect. His large-scale portrait is unlike any of his previous works, with rich, vibrant color. Luscious, wet, red lips are all that remain of the photograph hidden behind layers of paint, creating a sense of pleasurable unbalance and mystery — we half expect a tongue to emerge and lick them dry. The eyes of the ambiguously gendered figure confront the viewer, staring boldly, and we can’t look away. Pakron’s brushstrokes are thick, emphasizing the contours of the face and blurring the background into a warm, blood red. Emotionally powerful, Pakron’s work is evocative and haunting.

Kendall Messick’s photographs from his documentary film, The Projectionist, are about a man’s fascination with the golden age of film. The images are vibrantly colored, but we’ve seen them before, both at the Halsey in 2007 and at Rebekah Jacob. It would have been nice to see something new from this talented artist.

In a Kevin Taylor piece, a wounded elephant bathing under the moon with a naked woman commands the viewer’s attention, but on closer inspection, it’s the textural details of the animal’s skin and eyes that linger. Taylor grew up in Charleston and now lives in San Francisco, where he continues to examine the relationships between man and nature and the animalistic qualities of people. His range is varied, and several smaller paintings of tribal-looking men with mushrooms growing on their shoulders and beards made of moss are included in the show. His animals are infinitely more interesting than his lifeless, somewhat creepy females.

Rutenberg’s large-scale abstract oil paintings reveal his love of color. Alternating layers of thick paint shift in scale as if they bounce off one another, creating conflict between the layers. There is movement in the dense paint as if we are looking at or feeling something geographic, a landscape from above.

Local favorite Hussey is a prolific artist whose work was recently featured in a mid-career retrospective at the City Gallery. Hussey uses “whatever is around” (cherries, coffee grounds, charcoal) to create his mixed-media works on paper. His style is loose with abstract shapes, scribbles, and sometimes-recognizable figures like a face blowing circles or a bit of patchwork. Hard to decipher, his work is both engaging and at times frustrating, inviting the viewer to suspend analysis because maybe the pieces aren’t necessarily meant to be read or understood. Unlike Rutenberg, whose abstract works express emotion through color, Hussey’s images invite conversation about the process of making art.

One of the challenges of a group show, especially in a small setting, is to hang the collection without making it look chaotic, but the white walls and clean lines of Jacob’s gallery minimize distractions and provide enough room to absorb this visually pleasing summertime show. Summer reminds us that even after the lights go down on Spoleto, the visual arts scene in Charleston never sleeps.

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