In Times Like These:
Art Responds Twentyfold
Ann Hicks, Arts Writer
Under the banner In Times Like These a thought-provoking exhibit of artworks by twenty artists has been assembled by Hampton III Gallery, South Carolina’s venerable fine arts dealer.
The format of the show that opens on July 9 and continues through August 29, is the gallery’s first foray into cyberspace in which it will platform the broad and diverse works that rose in a call-and- response fashion initiated by Hampton’s owner-director Sandra Rupp.
In a letter to the artists represented by her gallery, she requested submissions: “Of a work that has been completed between March 1 – June 30” – significant dates to bracket the current state of the nation.
The responses have been as varied as the call has been singular. “I wanted to get the perspective of all of them and use the privilege to showcase the outcome,” said Rupp, pleased by the result.
Asked about the exhibit title, Rupp said it comes from a church song she heard as a young child. Its faith-based message sings thus: In times like these you need an anchor. She is convinced that art can offer such needed grounding for both its practitioners and its viewing audiences.
All of the show’s poly-dimensional submissions reflect profound feelings, emotions, recollection, all stirred by the relentless coronavirus pandemic and the concomitant national civic unrest. To plumb the depth of the creative will, a written inquiry requested commentary from the artists, as well as, a short video to be taken in their studios to talk about their work. The intent behind all this effort is to engage as deeply as possible with the virtual exhibit visitor. All of the videos can be accessed at Hampton III’s website. www.hamptoniiigallery.com
During the time of the exhibit, the physical artwork will be on display at the gallery. Rupp said she was planning “to more and more get into digital presentations as a necessity for the foreseeable future under the current health crisis. Still it is very important to Rupp to have the physical artwork in the gallery, hung as it were an exhibition. “I’d like for people to come on one-and-one basis or in pairs to stand front of the work. There’s that human aspect, which I don’t think you can experience viewing online.”
Of the latter experience, the landscapist Stephen Chesley has this to add, “Virtual is one-step away from reality, real-life is one step closer.”
What is here to see and to know?
The visitor to the virtual site will be treated to a wide array of styles-choices from abstract to realism. The featured artwork includes batik, clay art, etching, mixed media, sculpture paintings – some on canvas, others on paper or board, and wood. A sea of color, texture and shape invites the viewer to linger and seek out the soulful narratives materialized in each work.
While playful, even humorous creations offer entertainment to lighten the mood of “These Times,” existential drama takes center stage varied in scope and size.
Realist painter, Edward Rice’s heroic-sized oil on canvas – the largest work in the exhibit, rails against injustice. It depicts a young black man in convict uniform, hog-tied, chained to a pickax, his head resting in dirt. Rice shows great respect for his subject that fills the huge canvas covered in a somber palette. The work chronicles the horrors of “convict leasing,” a system of involuntary servitude practiced in the post-civil war era until the mid-nineteen forties. The outraged artist is adamant: “I need to bear witness to this.”
In a contrasting size, Sigmund Abeles’ small pastel on board, The Bat menacing with its pandemic-grown fangs, serves as the metaphor for absurd conditions. Abeles, who shelters at home, is keenly aware of the surrounding danger from Covid 19. With the vicious bat, the painter unwraps his feelings. With his other works, a self-portrait, he marks his shaved face (fit for mask-wearing), while his still life of a wilting flower captures what once thrived.
Batik artist, Leo Twiggs, whose oeuvre includes the nine-painting series, Requiem for Mother Emanuel that received national recognition on CBS and ESPN, summarize with twin works Sheltered In Place #1 and #2 the pandemic’s effect on his work. His subject is forced isolation; The freedom that was, is now merely a window with a view. He invites the observer to stand and look out those windows – one, of a large house, the other a small apartment – and watch a red bird in the sky. It flies and perches representing all those who yearn for the freedom of remembered times. Not all is lost, though. Twigs feels optimistic. Linking esthetics and politics, he alludes to current civil rights marches. “Now, as they march by, the view from my window is more exhilarating” he said. “Pandemic notwithstanding.”
Veteran artist, Jeanet Dreskin, began work in the second week of March on a painting she eventually titled Raging Flow. Driven by rapidly evolving events, she captures the harm the virus is doing in her vivid watercolor. Her aquatic creation of the Covid 19 the pandemic becomes the all-powerful adversary that never stops producing a massive turbulence. Deeply affected by the unending flow of harm, the artist offers the viewer her response with swirling water in multi-shades of blue, yellow, and orange that rush off the canvas with unrelenting violence.
Water as an element also graces the work of abstract painter Philip Mullen. With his Koi in Fast Water #2, he invites the viewer to see the illusion of unchanging objects becoming dynamic. Come close, says the artist-magician, to watch the koi appear and disappear as they drive around each other forming patterns and then breaking from the patterns. Mullen challenges the viewer to interact with his intriguing work which he hopes will lead to “a deeper attention to the ordinary.” Playfulness appears in the face of a pandemic.
While art can rage it can also heal. In times like these natural scenery speaks in brushstrokes of trees, brooks and flowers or with hands that mold clay, as in acclaimed ceramists Alice Ballard’s “Lean on Me” meditation bowls and Sharon Campbell’s sawdust-fired generous vessel. Sculptor, Dave Appleman’s “Crested Defender” shapes meaning into stone. All these are to ease troubled minds.
The passionate landscape art created by such Hampton III artists as Luke Allsbrook, Stephen Chesley, Glen Miller, Tom Stanley, and Art Werger offer differing points of view with similar outcomes: tranquility in the midst of feeling powerless lifts the spirit.
Allsbrook’s inviting oil painting Bridge Between Flowers celebrates being “in a good place,” where he connects with nature and God.
Chesley’s Passing Rain, Twilight Tide acknowledges “the unimaginable gift of life and diversity on Earth.” His oil painting features a sea turtle heading for the waves.
Glen Miller’s acrylic work A Morning in May is a sympathetic nod to the viewers’ collective angst and an invitation to share kindred feelings about the world turned upside down. Yet, it is filled with the beauty of Nature in spring. To explore such feelings these days he works “more deliberately.”
While Boyd Saunders’ pastel drawing Paddock Parade #5 holds its narrative at arm’s length from “In Times Like These,” he does have a message for the viewer: “I make a bit of art everyday but it is a continuation of the body of work I was developing long before the crisis happened and hopefully will continue long after it is over.”
Tom Stanley’s acrylic of North American trees borrows its title from folk singer John Prine’s last album Tree of Forgiveness. Stanley, a fan of Prine, who died three months ago of Covid 19 complications, streamed the singer’s music while creating the work for this exhibit. Stanley notes that he searched for imagery that “might have some kind of relationship to people.” His trees stand at attention, each numbered “a” through “n” using a print set his father gave him years ago. Memories spring to life “in times like these.
Art Werger’s etching The Edge serves as a reminder that the Covid crisis has shaken our world. The artist notes How the Black Lives Matter movement has made us confront our history of racism and inequity. He says: “As an artist and educator I question everything and in doing so find no answers.” At the precipice of discontent Werger adds that to deal with his anxiety he goes to his studio and tries to make art.
Wielding his righteous bandsaw, progressive sculptor John Acorn reminds us that during the time of pandemic-induced shelter-in-place reports of domestic violence rose precipitously. With his “Night At Home” a relief work – conveyed with pistols and bullets – the artist aims to alert the viewer to the horror of being trapped by one’s abuser. His blood-red wood palette is A-framed in black space flanked on both sides with bright yellow stripes used to mark a danger zone.
Lovers of abstraction will find in this virtual, and at-the gallery exhibit an abundance of imagination to challenge each viewer. Julyan Davis’ surreal oil Dogwood Tree; Philip Morsberger’s pastel Home on the Range; Enid Williams’ and Paul Yanko’s untitled acrylic works – are all ready to be the focus of inquiry.
In his introspective work Truth Deeper than Knowledge, Paul Matheny makes eye contact to draw in the viewer. While he may not be intentionally creating work about present day isolation and unraveling, he shares that this perspective may be coming out indirectly in his work.
Albert Camus, author of The Plague said: “A work of art is a confession.”
These and other unflinching works of confession aim to connect the viewer and the object in the art of the moment.