One of the most important aspects of abstract painting is the artist’s “mark.” Making one’s mark, or creating different lines, patterns, and textures on the canvas is crucial to just about any form of visual art, but it’s vital in abstract work, where the artist is channeling an image through his or her own creative lens. A mark can be a matter of emotion, intuition, or technique, and it can also be as a signature, pinpointing the identity of the artist.
Of course, there’s another meaning in the phrase “making one’s mark” that can be applied to an artist, a reference to their growing skill, notoriety, or influence on an art scene. It’s the mix of those two definitions that Meyer Vogl gallery director Katie Geer was thinking of when she conceived of the gallery’s new exhibit, Leave A Mark, which combines the work of four local abstract artists: Laura Deems, Marissa Vogl (gallery co-owner and resident artist), Anne Darby Parker, and Susan Altman.
“We do a few shows a year, and I wanted to do something that would work for Marissa and Susan, two of our abstract artists who are both of the lifeblood of the gallery,” Geer says. “I was brainstorming ideas, and exploring artist options from all over, and I kept coming back to Anne and Laura, who happened to both be local artists. When I thought about them together, what stuck out to me about all four of them was their marks, the defining marks they make on the canvas. It also struck me that they’re making their own marks on Charleston’s art landscape, and that tied it all together for me.”
And since the term “abstract art” can be expanded to include a variety of approaches, the artists’ respective work, all created specifically for this exhibit, can stand alone while also serving as one cohesive presentation.
One need only compare the works of Deems and Parker to prove this concept. Deems, the youngest artist involved in Leave A creates paintings that probably fit most comfortably into what most people would consider the traditional “abstract art” idea. Her work often incorporates jagged, vaguely menacing shapes that almost look like the naked steel girders of a building or Roman columns, looming darkly against background splashes of blurred color.
Parker’s paintings, on the other hand, are almost always based on a recognizable human form, but a form that she exaggerates or understates features of to move her work out of simple portraiture or realism.
What’s interesting about both of these artists is that neither began their careers as painters. Deems worked largely in textiles and fabrics, while Parker was a photographer.
“I’d actually gone to school to study pattern making and color theory,” Deems says. “But a lot of the comments I got about my work were that it was like I was painting through . It was abstract, and it wasn’t as structured as it needed to be. In textiles, the work needs to be very gridlike and have some sort of pattern, and my expression was very loose.”
“I worked as a photographer for 20 years,” Parker says, “but I took painting classes, and over time that painting and drawing started taking over. I thought more about it, I got most of my ideas for photographs from painting books, and when I went to museums I would always go to the paintings instead of the photographs. After my third child was born I just completely moved away from photography and I decided to go full force into the painting side.”
Parker and Deems brought certain aspects of their former artistic lives with them when they transitioned to painting, however.
“I think about how a fabric moves or lays, and I take that into painting,” Deems says.
“I think what’s transferred from the photography is the attraction to capturing a figure,” she says, “but the work has gotten a lot more spontaneous.”
Parker actually started out with a more realist approach, but like Deems’ work in textiles, she began to bump up against the limits of the form. “I felt very confined and frustrated a lot of the time,” she says. “When I moved more into an expressive style, I felt it was more my natural voice.”
Deems says she’s looking forward to the Leave A Mark show because it will give people a chance to learn how many different styles can fall under the abstract art umbrella.
“Everyone has such a different approach,” she says. “It will be really interesting to view all these artists from different age groups and see how they make their marks. It will be a really neat conversation from canvas to as you walk through the exhibit. Our marks emphasize who we are as artists, and I feel like we’ve created bodies of work that embody what we are about.”
Geer adds one more goal she’d like to accomplish with the exhibit: Impressing upon people how passionate and talented abstract artists are.
“A lot of people look at abstract art and say, ‘Anyone can do that,'” she says. “But this is a craft. These artists are making these marks that create a beautiful painting. They put a lot of thought into their color, their brushes, their canvas size, and they’re masters at making work come together. I think it’s actually more difficult to paint because everything has to come from your mind.”