I’m amazed by the lengths some people will go to get to an art reception. A couple of weeks ago, Roswell Eldridge was willing to drive down from the tiny town of Rensselaerville, N.Y. to attend the dedication of Studio Open’s Audubon Room. His passion for the naturalist’s work is shared by the studio’s owner, Sherry Browne, who’s currently displaying prints taken from 19th-century wildlife artist John James Audubon’s octavos. But distance wasn’t the only obstacle Eldridge faced on his way to see the show.
On a busy Myrtle Beach bypass, he flipped his car into a drainage ditch and found himself upside down with his head underwater. He unbuckled his seatbelt and managed to scoot out the rear window, but one of his dogs was missing. The unlucky hound was eventually found 30 feet down the road; it had been thrown eight feet up in the air and was stuck in a tree.
Still, the art lover and his aerobatic animal got back on the road and Eldridge made it to the reception, where he contributed prints that have been meticulously scanned from privately-owned Audubon volumes. In a time when plates are being ripped from 1850s sets and sold individually on eBay, Eldridge is matching his self-preservation with another kind, upholding Audubon’s witty text as well as his famous bird art.
When the sun hits Browne’s studio at the right angle, it’s filled with shimmering color. She’s made good use of her space on Folly Beach’s West Hudson Avenue, with two contemporary artists sharing the main gallery area. Nance Lee Sneddon’s crimson, fawn, copper, and brown floral paintings occupy one wall, complementing Zernie Smith’s brighter paintings and sculptures. Smith gives ancient art styles a progressive edge, mythologizing his own life by incorporating personal experiences into Mayan mazes or Egyptian objects.
Downtown, the John M. Dunnan Gallery has also been rejiggered recently, with seats in the middle of the space and an area at the window for Dunnan to work in; a half-finished canvas sits on an easel, begging for attention with its bright yellow flourishes. The contemporary painter and sculptor has recently opened an ’80s-to-present retrospective which includes several pieces that have never been shown before. There are cascades of blue in his mixed-media work, and two examples of his oil paintings are also on display. The white slashes painted diagonally or vertically over some of his work hint at the more frenzied, involved pieces he’s creating at the moment.
Also on show are some of Dunnan’s lifesized white figures in lively poses. Their movement’s further suggested by the pale footprints all over the floor. Pity poor gallery manager Josh James, who sometimes gets the creeps when he locks up at night. More worryingly, he’ll sometime return the next morning to find that one of the statues has moved — zoinks!
The exhibition gives a mere hint of Dunnan’s body of work — there’s a lot more to his output than soothing abstracts and creepy mummies. His faceless nude drawings, echoes of Matisse’s dancing figures, cavort in a smaller back room to the unique rhythm of a looping Andy Warhol documentary. The retrospective might not be comprehensive but it suggests an urge to experiment — one that’s paying off in the works in progress on Dunnan’s easel.