Summer Dreams

Fri., Aug. 17

5-9 p.m.

South of Broadway Theatre Company

1080 E. Montague Ave. N. Charleston



Many artists dream of being let loose in a large space with plenty of room to fill with their work and that of their peers. Phillip Hyman has been given that chance. The downside: the space is South of Broadway (SOB) in North Charleston, not a top nighttime destination for art lovers. While drive-by paint-outs remain a rarity, SOB founder/producer Mary Gould readily admits that her city’s crime rate and its pursuant negative rep has an affect on attendance. Perhaps that’s why Hyman’s kept his show local.

All of the contributors are from North Chuck. Some, like James Christopher Hill, are new to the area. Others like Zernie Smith are entrenched residents. They’ll be exhibiting their work at Gould’s stage space in an increasingly hip section of East Montague Avenue, Park Circle. While SOB is no stranger to art shows — it’s been a semi-regular part of the North Charleston Art Walk since it began a few years ago — this is a more ambitious art undertaking than usual for the theatre. The styles on show vary from busy abstract images to contemporary portraits, or in Hyman’s words, “from surreal to street.”

When North Chuck held an art walk in May, Hyman and Gould weren’t invited to participate, but that didn’t stop them from displaying work anyway, right across the street from the walk’s organizing headquarters. It inspired them to start planning Summer Dreams, a more ambitious group show that Hyman hopes will “nurture local artists” and “challenge other areas to be as strong” as theirs.

Hyman’s rate of output alone is enough to motivate other artists. Nicknamed “The Machine,” he constantly churns out paintings, installations, sculptures, illustrations, and murals. “He’s extremely versatile,” says Gould. “He lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps art.” And he organizes shows as well, on a nigh-monthly basis at Vickery’s downtown in addition to various exhibits in his North Charleston neighborhood. He’s constantly looking for new or unknown artists, providing them with a chance to show their work.

One such find: Mia Jenkins, whose work cropped up last year at a one-off Exchange Factor show. Her portraits are clean, uncluttered but full of sly humor and attitude. Her penchant for sequential art seems to have seeped into her color figurative work as well; many of her pieces suggest a character or story to go with them. Some of her most intriguing art has a Japanese influence, full of subtle, tiny dashes of color that signify facial features, leaves, or blossoms. Her unusual shapes and curvy landscapes look strange at first, but they work well together.

Zernie Smith produces the kind of abstracts that you have to take a step back from and take time to fathom. With a penchant for purple and other bold, rich colors, Smith’s labyrinthine patterns are easy to get lost in. A Midwestern mode has made his art a hit in Santa Fe, N.M., and he’s a regular “best of show” juried artist thanks to his individual approach. Breaking from the traditional cultural influences that artists usually fall back on, Smith references African, South American, and South Sea Island styles and symbols.

Walk into Mellow Mushroom or down Folly Beach’s Center Street and you’ll see expansive work by James Christopher Hill, who has shifted in tone from the irreverent kind of painting you’ll see on Planet Follywood’s exterior to impressionistic, otherworldly skyscapes that seem to have seeped out of a Carl Sagan reverie. His feathery, windblown cloud studies are full of swirling movement, but they also have an air of tranquility. Hill is a charming Charleston native who just can’t get enough of those marsh-fogged mauve sunsets that most of us take for granted.

Peter Scala uses egg tempera and oil to depict Miroesque images that range from childlike fun to adult complexity, nightmarish fantasy to social commentary. Like Smith, an acknowledgement of non-American forms of art — this time European, Asian, and African approaches — keeps his painting fresh.

If there’s anything that links these artists together beyond North Charleston, it’s their willingness to look far and wide for ideas and inspiration.