Robert Lange Studios
151 East Bay St.
Maybe it was last year’s Big Works show that convinced Robert Lange he needed to expand his French Quarter gallery. Until recently, there was little room to step back and admire the paintings on display, especially during a jam-packed reception.
Instead of spreading outward, Lange’s moved upward, with a huge new 2,500-square-foot second-story space in the building next door. This provides much more breathing room for the art and a welcoming atmosphere for visitors, with 22-foot-high ceilings, a soothing white-and-brown color scheme, stools, couches, and even a fireplace. It’s a combination gallery space, art lounge, and painting studio; Lange has a little easel and canvas right by the hearth. True, it could be a prop, but it looks good.
Even better than the hang-out value is the large-scale work on display. Fletcher Crossman’s acrylics on canvas are unmissable, if only because they’re so bloody big. They’re remarkably effective, too. The 10-by-6-foot “Blindfold” captures the glare and heat of the sun or harsh spotlights, and his figures also have a stony pallor that gives them a classical, monumental edge (particularly in the case of “The Dancers”). The photography of Wade Lawrence and John Duckworth also benefit from the roominess, and light from a few large windows makes it easier to pick up the fine details in Lawrence’s absorbing black and white “Untitled (Swimsuit Back)” and “Cycles.”
In the original space, Penelope Moore gives a nod to Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” in “Early aVida II.” Using blocks of color to suggest reflected light, she creates street scenes and still lifes from interesting angles. “Fork” looks solid from the left side, at a distance; step up close and its breaks and bends into a mixture of curves and colors. Aaron Memmott contributes urban landscapes that are similar, though wider in scope. He’s intrigued with skylines, bridge spans, and rooftops. Together, their work gives the ground floor gallery a cool ’50s experimental vibe.
While the talented Lange works hard to stay in the spotlight, other artists beaver away with minimal exposure. None of the artists in last week’s brief Under the Radar exhibition at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park have had a major solo event, although at least one of them (Jonathan Auger) had the City Gallery at Dock Street Theatre to himself a couple of years back.
The two criteria for entry into the Emerging Artist competition, hosted by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and Charleston magazine, were a lack of limelight and a Lowcountry zip code. Ten winners had their work displayed for three days in a show that would have benefited from a longer run.
While some of the artists’ work was familiar to local art viewers — Karin Olah’s fabric concoctions are a regular fixture at Corrigan Gallery, and Townsend Davidson’s paintings occasionally crop up at Redux — they benefited from the gallery’s extra space and light. Davidson’s landscapes are around 60″ x 84″ in size, deep blue and imbued with humor. “The Craps Game” (oil on canvas) shows a giant, realistically depicted hand at the top of the frame, dropping pieces of a house through the sky. “The Single House” has a large cloud hanging over it, referencing a map of North America and the Sword of Damocles. In a mark of surrender, the house’s window frames are bright white crosses.
Olah’s “Balustrade” and “Honeysuckle 2” pieces consist of fabric, gouache, and graphite on paper. They have a delicate musical motif — treble clefs, instruments, and notation — along with the curls of rails or petals, and all of Olah’s works benefit from a formic unity and shrewd choice of color.
Joel Parker’s figurative oils also deserved to make the grade. He captures urban life with summer colors, showing lunch-hour moments with a mix of detailed expressions and barely-there backgrounds. “The Big Flop” focuses on a pale, fat guy mid-dive, about to make waves in a busy swimming pool; to accentuate his corpulence, everyone else is skinny and tanned. Parker calls on viewers to use their imaginations to fill in the narrative blanks as well as some of the artwork. For example, the pool’s edges are left unpainted, there’s only a vague delineation between water and sky, and some of the onlookers have been sketched in like translucent ghosts. Nevertheless, he creates a strong sense of life and depth lacking from Kat Hastie’s smudged realist paintings (including the nine-paneled “Historic Sights of Charleston,” oil on canvas).
Shannon Wood provides several effective mixed media pieces, working around collaged subjects. The clipped-out birds in “Waiting” perch on a wire, looking left and right, with a few ransom-note letters hanging below. It’s left up to the viewers to decide whether the birds are waiting for sunrise, for spring, or for a bomb to go off.
With still more worthy work by Julie Klaper and Jonathan Auger, it’s strange that, by making the City Gallery available for the exhibit, the City Office of Cultural Affairs is championing these lesser-known lights right before opening two shows by artists who already have their own galleries for Piccolo Spoleto. Now that this competition has brought new talent to the attention of collectors, the majority are left without a space to hang their work. If that talent is to be nurtured, it needs more exposure than a three-day show.