Now through Feb. 2 2020, the Gibbes Museum of Art features two special exhibitions that question the ways we look at the world.

Charles Edward Williams: Sun + Light highlights pieces from Williams’ series, Everyone Loves the Sunshine, paintings that juxtapose Williams’ own life with moments from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Tabitha Vevers: Lover’s Eyes is a compilation of pieces from two decades of work by Vevers. Inspired by traditional eye miniatures (once worn as emblems of illicit affairs, and called “lover’s eyes”), Vevers’ work reimagines the traditional male gaze from the perspective of a contemporary woman.

Williams says that the pieces in Sun + Light purposefully utilize the color yellow, something that’s made even more apparent on one of the gallery walls, appropriately painted a bright daisy shade. As Williams points out, yellow is a color that means a lot of different things: depending on the context yellow can be a joyous smiley face or eerie caution tape. It’s up to the viewer to decide.

“My content drives the aesthetics,” says Williams of his work, adding that he doesn’t paint anything without a clear intention. “I’m reframing historical images to bring history forward.”
[image-5] Williams stands in front of “Yellow (Freedom Riders)”, which pays homage to Warhol’s repeated images of women. Instead of glamorous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, though, these faces are the mugshots of Freedom Riders, drenched in the color yellow.

Laced with yellow lines — the approximate footsteps of a policeman running through the scene — Williams’ “Scramble” is one of the collection’s more arresting works. The triptych is a series of stills from a video taken on June 5 2015, which captures a cop pulling a gun on teenagers at a McKinney, Texas pool party.

In the first two scenes it’s unclear whether the officer is helping or hurting the teenage girl. In the third, though, his intentions seem pretty clear. Williams wants you to decide the narrative for yourself, though, even if you know the story the paintings are based on. “I’m just posing questions,” he offers. “The cool thing is we all share complex emotions. We’re looking for ways to connect.” [image-2] Like Williams, Vevers takes history and reframes what we think we know. Lover’s eyes, in history, were commissioned portraits — miniatures of a man’s eyes that were often sent to their secret lovers, a male gaze upon a woman’s form.

“I’m reversing the gaze,” says Vevers. Her work requires a lot of research; in painting the eyes of women, eyes found in famous paintings from the likes of Picasso and Man Ray, she devoted hours upon hours of time to finding out the female models’ real names.

She calls her paintings visual quotations, re-contextualized images from moments in history. In addition to the very real connection between lover’s eyes and Vevers work, the artist also chose to paint eyes because they are so expressive. She notes that when painting Mona Lisa‘s eye she noticed a slight muscle twitch that indicates she very likely was smiling.
[image-4] Vevers’ Gibbes collection features the historical take on lover’s eyes, situated in small frames, as well as the most modern of self-portraits — the selfie. Walking into the gallery you are met with the gazes of many women — and some men — and forced to look back (or away, if you’re really creeped out, which Vevers admits to getting in her studio, alone).

The crying eyes, though, a special section all their own, are difficult to ignore.

“There’s an animal response to a crying eye,” says Vevers. “It’s an intimate experience.”

The Gibbes Museum of Art is open daily. Learn more online at gibbesmuseum.org.


Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.