Carnival music played in the background of Robert Lange Studios while the salty smell of popcorn wafted through the gallery on Friday night. Art lovers stood elbow to elbow, sipping pink cocktails from striped straws and wandering among the funhouse images. Wearing red high heels and a winning smile, L.A.-based artist Amy Lind was the ringmaster of her Circus of Wonders. Her large-scale, boldly colored paintings evoke a feeling of childlike curiosity and nostalgia. Who hasn’t gone to the circus and wondered about the people behind the costumes, the emotions behind the painted smiles? What happens when the curtain goes down?

Lind encourages this curiosity using a variety of points of view in her latest collection. Leaning over the shoulders of a young family in “Under the Big Top,” we see what they see: the simple joy of a performance. The mother wears a hat and elbow-length gloves, while her children lean in toward one another in their own Sunday best — a cap and vest for the boy and a fluffy dress for the girl. In “Shine,” viewers get a glimpse of a dancer alone on a swing, looking back as if we’ve caught her unawares. The vibe is paparazzi-ish. It’s like we pulled the curtain on the Wizard of Oz.

Gallery owners Robert and Megan Lange discovered Lind when she was preparing to graduate from SCAD in 2006. She now lives in L.A. with her husband and returns to Charleston every year for a solo show. 2010 has been a bang-up year for Lind, who’s recently gained recognition as an emerging portrait artist. One of her portraits was featured on the cover of Art Calendar magazine, and earlier this fall, Lind was elected into the National and Western Regional Oil Painters of America. “Hello Up There,” a painting from the Circus of Wonders, was featured on the cover of American Art Collector magazine. In it, a small girl clutches balloons and reaches up to a man on stilts. The balloons in particular reveal her technical mastery of realism.

Lind loves painting figures and says she feels like she has reached the next level with this show. “There are more complex compositions, more emotion, and a variety of lighting in these paintings,” she says, comparing the show to previous works. Her evolution represents an attempt to loosen up her previous style, which was often described as photorealism. In the Circus of Wonders, she has created hard and soft edges that allow the eye to focus like a spotlight on the performers. Using her L.A. connections, she cast actors and models, scouted locations, and used vintage props and costumes to recreate the vision in her head.

The clown in “A Star in Stripes” stares directly at the viewer with a sad, resigned expression, and in “Prelude,” a clown in a black-and-white costume blows his horn behind a curtain. The stripes and polka dots of his costume against the blood red curtain create a sense of depth, harkening back to the photorealism of Lind’s earlier works. These images are some of the stronger of the collection, although she could have gone further in these behind-the-scenes images, giving her characters more emotional depth. We are tempted to know more about the subjects, but our curiosity is not ultimately satisfied. There is a one-dimensionality, a flatness in her female characters whose job is to look beautiful; they don’t inspire much more than that. Perhaps the use of actors and props limited the possibility of complex expressions.

Even so, the collection is fun, engaging, and colorful, allowing the viewer to feel like a child. It is sweet and light like a cone of cotton candy. And, like the circus, Lind’s work offers viewers the chance to escape the drudgery of everyday life.