Marie Carladous did not plan on opening a gallery, but as the proprietor of Charleston’s newest art exhibition space, she admits, “It’s funny how the universe works.”
Originally from France, Carladous moved to Charleston 10 years ago to complete her studio art degree at the College of Charleston, with a focus in film photography. Carladous, aka The French Darkroom, is a photographer with a passion for shooting film. She understands the struggle of finding a partner gallery: “With photography, either film or digital, a lot of galleries don’t want to touch it.”
When Carladous graduated from the college, and attempted to find gallery representation, she found many would not accept her beloved medium. Even more difficult was finding galleries that were willing to show an emerging artist.
With the Gap Gallery at 638 King St. opened in July 2021, Carladous is changing that narrative. The monthly exhibitions at Gap Gallery feature Charleston’s emerging talent, some of whom have never shown in a gallery before, alongside other established artists.
Carladous calls Charleston a second home, having worked at D’Allesandro’s Pizza for the last eight years. Sibling owners Nick and Ben D’Allesandro began renting the space at 638 King St. with the eventual goal of expanding their business. They asked Carladous if she would be involved.
“One of the owners asked if I would run his next restaurant, and after sitting on it, I said, ‘I really appreciate it, but no — it’s too much of a commitment for me’ … and sort of as a joke, I said, ‘Well, you know, I could use the space as my art studio until you figure it out,’” Carladous recalled, laughing.
“Two weeks later, he came to me and said you know what, that’s a great idea. Come and get the key.”
When Carladous saw just how much wall space she had at 638 King, she decided to spread the generosity her friends Ben and Nick had shared with her.
Carladous called upon her community of artist-friends, and within two weeks, she was putting on a collective exhibition held at Gap Gallery in late July. The exhibitions, or “volumes,” have become a monthly occurrence — the photographer-turned-gallerist hosted her fourth opening Nov. 19, with plans for the final volume in this temporary space, Volume Five, to be held on Dec. 17.
Artists featured in the gallery’s most recent exhibition included painters Will Thornton, known professionally as Smug Lips, and Casey Rae Allen, mixed media artists Anna Chen and Nicole Trimmer, and photographers Dontre Major and Jillian Thorvaldson, just to name a few of the 22 artists total who were a part of Volume Four. Applications are open through Dec. 5 for artists interested in Volume 5.
Besides the monthly exhibitions, the Gap Gallery has also hosted shows like “Diverse Artists of Charleston,” organized by transgender artist Lucas Romanova as a fundraiser. The exhbition featured queer and BIPOC artists, with 20% of the show’s proceeds donated to the Carolina Youth Action Project, an organization that centers political education and community organizing to build power among girls and trans and gender-nonconforming youth.
Carladous is committed to creating space for emerging, diverse artists, and to supporting what she feels is an underrepresented point of view in Charleston’s galleries.
Carladous is proud that, with every show, almost every artist has sold work. Not only are people showing up — around 250 people came out for the first exhibition — they’re buying art, too.
Carladous continues to focus on showcasing diverse artists and artworks, especially photography.
“I’m really excited about this lineup,” she said of the November exhibition. “I finally have photographers in here, a handful of them, and they all do really different work.”
From the dreamy digital still-lifes of Caroline Herring, to the emotive and powerful film of Dontre Major, Carladous, who once had trouble finding representation for her photography, has created a place where she is able to offer that representation to emerging artists.
The space at 638 King St. is temporary, and after the Dec. 17 exhibition, Carladous’ objective is to secure a permanent space, ideally downtown. Stay tuned to the Gap Gallery and Carladous’ work by following @the_french_darkroom on Instagram.