You can’t always judge an artist by his art. When I first saw Manning Williams’ great comic book-paneled, aggressively hectic art, I imagined some young punk raised on hard liquor and Lichtenstein. Instead, Williams is a sage, self-effacing Charlestonian in his 60s, whom gallery owner Lese Corrigan describes as an underappreciated local treasure.
“He hasn’t been fully recognized,” she told me. “He represents a crossover from the Charleston Renaissance to today.” Corrigan wants people to rediscover this missing link, so she’ll be displaying his latest pieces in Fragmenting Arrogance, a show at Corrigan Gallery opening Thurs. Feb. 8 and running until Feb. 28.
Corrigan represented his work at the Verner Gallery when she was running it in 1999 and 2000, and stresses the similarities between his earlier landscape and figurative stuff and his more recent abstract paintings.
‘The composition, landscape feel, war images, and colors are still there,” says Corrigan. “There are certain visual elements that repeat themselves.” Williams has been developing a pop art-influenced style for the past 12 years, but he’s kept it accessible by layering his acrylic work with energetic forms and comic book panels. Look hard and you’ll see crude figures with speech balloons brightening some of the more ambiguous backgrounds. The balloons are blank, inviting the viewer to add their own dialogue to the graphic tableaux.
This stripped-up approach is manna for my generation, brought up on graphic novels and Grand Theft Auto. As well as abstracting any potential pomposity from his work, his lightness of touch allows him to tackle the serious subjects that he holds dear: war, social disorder, and the fragility of our current modes of communication.
While Williams grieves the death of the written word and strives to communicate his own concepts visually, several artists are exploring a more provincial theme at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. The Changing Face of Charleston looks at the city’s architecture from nostalgic, critical, and humorous angles, pointing up the sheer variety of buildings and landscapes around us.
It’s a group show assembled by first-time curator Colin Quashie, who has been producing provocative, high-quality work here for years and contributed to the City Gallery’s Dialogues of the Diaspora for MOJA 2005. “After many years of playing sheep,” he says, “I thought it would be a challenge to play shepherd and try to corral a group of artists who could visually articulate the theme, from a variety of perspectives.”
Quashie’s managed to gather a wide range of artists who use different media to make their distinct points. Jean-Marie Mauclet and Gwylene Gallimard provide an installation made up of a nine-foot house, bridge, and dumpster, recalling the low-income Shoreview Apartments that were demolished to provide land for the upscale Longborough subdivision. Kevin Hoth’s photographs depict the underside of freeways, accentuating their simple beauty; the images are paired with piped-in traffic sounds.
The ground floor of the gallery is dominated by a structure created by architect Kevan Hoertdoerfer and PublicCity Art. “His group takes a look at the impact of growth from a usability perspective,” says Quashie. “It invites the viewer to enter and witness the feeling of growth while at the same time honoring the chaos it creates.”
The show also includes work by Colleen Terrell, Wil Milner, Townsend Davidson, and others. Like its curator, it’s a complex exhibition full of ideas and bold leaps of imagination — a rare instance where you can judge an artist by his work.