There’s a new exhibit that’s beginning Sept. 29 at The Southern Gallery, and it’s one of the most expansive displays of artistic talent in the region. Entitled New Painting, the exhibit features work by seven different artists: Adam Eddy, Natalie Escobar, Shanequa Gay, Susan Klein, Karen Myers Paavola, Colin Quashie, and Sophie Treppendahl.
The artists hail from Charleston, Atlanta, and Richmond, and their styles are all over the artistic map, from abstract to racially charged to three-dimensional. Seen together, these different artists’ work puts them in a different context than they would be individually, and the exhibit sends an exciting message about the health and variations of the regional art scene.
Don’t Call It Shallow
Charleston’s Susan Klein’s works are a mix of ceramics, papier Mache and foam, which probably makes her the artist most far afield of the Painting theme, even if her work shares similar principles.
“My work is 3 dimensional, but I think I’m using the language of painting within the work,” she says.
There’s a blend of chaos and order in her creations, with oddly-formed geometric shapes emphasized in plenty of space. Perhaps the most striking work that Klein will be showing at The Southern is a triangular wall on which 15 devotional objects have been installed called “Offering.”
“A lot of what happens in my work is me in the studio responding to the material I’m using, and making choices based on the material,” Klein says. “But I also have outside references too, from architecture to devotional objects from different cultures. A lot of what I look at is artifacts, but I can use pop culture or fashion, as well.”
Those might seem more superficial influences than devotional artifacts, but Klein sees little difference.
“Design isn’t superficial,” she says. “Designers think about color and environment, and if you think about the history of decoration in any culture, it gives objects a real connection to humanity. If I go to a museum and see a Grecian urn, the decoration isn’t random. It’s meant to symbolize something to tell a story. I always feel like I can feel a person in that decoration.”
A New Purpose
Charleston’s Adam Eddy’s work might look familiar, but it’s because he takes objects you might see all the time and, as he calls it, “repurposes” them as art, giving them a rainbow’s worth of new colors and perhaps a deeper meaning.
“What I do is based on things that I come in contact with in life or have seen or read about,” Eddy says. “I take simple forms and shapes that you can observe in everyday life and repurpose them into abstract paintings.”
The group of works that Eddy is debuting at The Southern is based on the tall, thin openings in ancient castle walls called balistraria windows, which were originally used for firing arrows at an attacking enemy from a high, protected vantage point.
“Specifically, these pieces might remind you of castles or fortresses,” he says, “and that has a relationship to where we are in politics these days, the way we put a lot of trust in elite people, especially the super-wealthy in our society. And that usually doesn’t end up being beneficial for us. I think it’s interesting the way people love visiting these castles and looking at these windows, and arrows were shot out of these. They mean death. I’m just bringing them into an art context where people can look at them more critically.”
Unlike Klein, who seeks inspiration from the materials she uses, Eddy has a concept in mind before he begins his work.
“When it comes to art, I’m a very deliberate person,” he says. “And for me it’s a rational decision to be deliberate instead of intuitive. As a white straight male, I’ve had license to go wherever my emotions and instincts take me, and in a way, it’s more radical for me to be deliberate and careful. I used to paint in an intuitive way and then I decided to scale back on that and take very careful steps and use my conscious mind as a way of counteracting the history of white male painting.”
But as for his audience, does Eddy expect them to make the associations he’s trying to make about an illusory power structure and sexism?
“It’s a question I’m constantly going back and forth about, because I wouldn’t call myself a moralizing artist,” he says. “I want my message to be something the viewer comes to on their own. I don’t require people to make the same conclusions I do. That’s what makes art interesting is that it means different things to different people.”
Fear & Desire
Atlanta’s Shanequa Gay feels the same way about letting her viewers draw their own conclusions, but it’s difficult to ignore the metaphors in many of her paintings. Pitch-black bodies are often depicted with deer’s heads being hunted, pursued or slaughtered, often by other shadow forms that look a lot like police officers. The racial parallels are hard to miss.
“I’m playing on a couple of things,” she says. “Fear and desire; a type of reverence; oscillations of wanting and not wanting; intrigue and repulsion, these myths that surround blackness and the black body. On one end, it can be revered if it’s appropriated, but on the other end it can be repulsive if you embrace it.”
And even though the easiest association is with police violence against African Americans, Gay says her themes are nothing new. “Blackness is a threat,” she says. “It’s something that can be hunted, which also references slavery; the ownership of a body. That hasn’t fully transitioned out of our culture.”