The Joy of Painting

Robert Lange Studios Fine Art Gallery

151 East Bay St.

(843) 805-8052

Mystery is dead weight in the contemporary art world.

Artoholics want to know everything they can about a potential purchase: the artist’s background, the work’s inspiration, how long it took to complete. When a piece of art is purchased, the stories go with it. No wonder so many entrepreneurial Charleston artists have their own galleries.

Robert Lange Studios meets this demand. Artist and gallery owner Lange is often on premise, ready to answer questions about his work. Sometimes he can even be found painting. His current exhibition, The Joy of Painting, mirrors these trends by waggishly scrutinizing the role of the painter.

It also stages Lange’s successful, young, and thereby interesting appeal as a major theme, as the painter inhabits nearly every piece in the exhibit.

An artist who showcases himself risks ridicule. He must have thick skin, determination, and talent to back it up. Lange is a photo-realist painter. Therefore, his work has limited depth. To combat this, he toys, examines, and manipulates scale so the viewer is left to analyze the painting’s subject and role.

Many of the paintings show tiny objects: a knife, a woman, even a smaller painting, juxtaposed against broad canvases, which glance upon their diminutive counterparts with omnipotent eyes.

The work is technically superb if not a tad glossy, but merely tilt your head and you’ll see the brushstrokes that give authenticity to this exhibit.

These paintings are also about the act of painting. They explain the link between a person who creates and his finished product. It’s no question Lange wants to sell. But you get the impression he doesn’t want to leave the paintings, that his experience was a process, an experience to be remembered.

Lange creates a memorable environment in “1 or the Other.” Planted between two larger faces — one ashy gray, the other alive and flush with brown pigment — Lange cuts a saintly figure as he uses his brush to transport color onto one face while the other remains in a period of stagnant decay.

The gestures and color represent a self-aggrandizing testament to the powers of creation. Furthermore the touch of God, or a higher power presence, is a consistent motif in Lange’s work. The combination of these elements proves insightful to his personal ambitions and ability.

Divine intervention returns in “Every-thing’s Connected” — a vibrant, idealistic, ephemeral painting capturing a couple overlooking a city’s horizon. The couple stands on a nearby hillside, unaware of a deity’s descending arms. The arms prepare to pour milk on their shoulders. Scale is manipulated once again, minimizing the couple and the city while enlarging the hillside and the holy arms that drop from the sky.

“The Cutting Edge” possesses menace and security. I couldn’t help imagining black clouds of smoke rising from a skyscraper as the couple clings to each other and watches from afar.

“The Cutting Edge” is a sharp rumination on self and the tools we use to dissect. A slim forearm rises into a clamped hand that holds a slender knife. The knife gleams and penetrates through the painting’s dark background, which allows us to focus on the reflection of the face of the person holding the knife.

The reflection is blurred, but still the eye of the beholder is keen, and you feel caught in an intimate examination, one that is searching for more participants. The clever placement of object in lieu of a person is another way Lange recalibrates his subjects.

The work in The Joy of Painting is bold and commendable; it largely avoids bathos by celebrating the profession with restraint and precision. However, when you visit the Robert Lange Studios, you won’t just look at paintings, you’ll encounter a business that makes, discusses, and markets art.

You might overhear phone calls that discuss Lange’s work or plans for new exhibits or who the next incoming artist will be. You might even encounter the painter himself, dutifully creating a new piece, right then and there.

This experience is interactive and to be expected. Besides, the public demands it. Personally, I prefer a little mystery. After all, the joy of painting is subjective, incomplete, and ultimately mysterious. Not a marketing tool that, like the subjects in a photo-realism painting, stays flat no matter the spin.