Category Archives: Pauline West

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New Studio Artist: the Lovely World of Kate Waddell

Kate Waddell, Blush

Kate Waddell, Blush

You would like Kate Waddell.  She has a serene, focused smile and a great handshake; her palette could have been shaken from a box of Tropical Mike and Ike’s.  

Her studio is tiled with happy canvases: glossy roosters sprawled in bold, contented shades of punch and berry; breakfast settings and bowls of fruit with backgrounds blocked out in shades of pink and blood orange.  Even the rich blues of Waddell’s figure studies have a warm, street-lit quality.  One can’t help assuming that the world of her mind must be a pleasant place to be.

“I’m just trying to bring some joy to the art world,” she says, peacefully dabbing at a rooster-in-progress.  Turning to smile at me, warmly tanned, her hair pulled off her neck in a loose ponytail.  “There are people who try to be so difficult by doing this offensive stuff, but I’d rather paint what is beautiful,” she says, and the galleries- Bee Street Studios, Brown Dog– are lining up.  

She’s fresh off a show held at Candlefish earlier this month,  and had worked hard on having ‘cohesive palette and subjects’ for that, making everything all of a piece.  “I rely on brushstrokes and line to help everything go well together.”

Kate Waddell, Curtis.

Kate Waddell, Curtis.

Her next show is back home in Columbus, Georgia- “I’m going to do more fruit stuff for that-” where she attended the same high school as Teil Duncan and Lulie Wallace, who’ve also limned out successful painting careers here in Charleston, creating similarly happy, comfortable canvases that make you smile.  

Is there something in the water back home?

Waddell pauses.  “The arts were really big at my high school,” she says.

I was intrigued.  “Seriously?”

“It’s a smaller school, so they were able to really nurture us, fostering everyone to do what they liked best.”  

We’re talking about brushstrokes, appealing lines, and I mention Wayne Thiebaud, one of my favorites.  About a painting of his, Around the Cake, which hung for many years in my hometown museum.  How’d I’d stand there and stare at it, transfixed, even when I was young- those thick, glossy strokes-!

“During my freshman year, we had this assignment.  We had to paint a portrait of an artist and also of his work.  I did Thiebaud!  His lipstick tubes- that was when I fell in love with painting.”  Waddell smiles privately, remembering the moment.

About Cofc- she “loved it, loved Charleston.”  She worked for Teal Duncan, who is five years older.  “There’s a stigma, you know, around arts majors at college”- but Duncan’s success as a painter here in Charleston made for a reassuring friendship.  Waddell thought she could make it here, too.  “I’m never leaving.”

There’s a comfortable pause as she paints, and I glance around at her studio.  Stray pink balloons left over from a recent photo shoot, a tiny white wheelie cart with a cosmetic bag, a tiny pink moleskin.  Waddell works next to a larger stainless steel cart lidded with glass.  It makes for a big, roomy palette- generous dabs of those Mike and Ike colors- and on the shelves underneath I spy a spray can, a dog eared palette, a green toolbox.  

The paints she isn’t using are arranged on a large wooden board brightly quilled with brass hooks, each one rolled up tidily and clipped in place with black binder clips.  It’s a lovely system, made for her by a young architect friend, Dixon Prewitt.

“I’m not naturally a neat person.  But I’m trying,” she says.

I ask Waddell about her process, if she works from photographs.   “I take one image and then do variations on it,” she says, decisively, and then pauses, thinking. “I see the fruit stuff in my head, though.  I do a lot of portraiture, too.  From photos.  That’s my favorite.  And I usually play music- Young the Giant, Motherfolk.  Chill music.”  

She talks about using color to depict a mood.  

“Sometimes you get a sense of color in being with people and objects.  What’s that word-” Waddell says, hunting for it-

“Synesthesia.”

“Yes.  That. But not dramatically,” she says.  That small private smile again as Waddell turns back to her punch-colored world, where joy itself provides all the drama she needs.  

Follow Kate on instagram at  instagram @katewaddellart.    


-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  Her novel Evening’s Land  won the 2014 Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship Award and 2015’s Carol Marie Smith Scholarship for Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency.  West is represented by Natalia Aponte of AponteLiterary.

Kate Waddell

Kate Waddell, Palmer.

Kate Waddell, Citrus City.

Kate Waddell, Citrus City.

Kate Waddell, Vendue Blue.

Kate Waddell, Vendue Blue.

Kate Waddell, Guac

Kate Waddell, Guac

Darkly Dreaming: Photographer Mariah Channing

Lock and Key, by Mariah Channing.

Lock and Key, by Mariah Channing.

Ten minutes ago I was supposed to meet photographer Mariah Channing at Barsa, the stylish tapas place on King.  I’m working on a project and don’t mind that she’s late- but when my phone rings, and its her, we discover we’ve both arrived early and have been waiting separately.  Channing waves across the restaurant, and comes over carrying her laptop and glass of water.

With her winged eye liner, bow shaped lips, cat-eye glasses and a scattering of tattoos winking out from under her charcoal colored tee, Channing could be one of those mischievous sylphs on the cover of an alternative magazine.  Her cameo necklace swings on a long thin silver chain as she sits, looking dreamily distracted, like a cat that’s just woken from a sunlit nap.

“I’ve been working on website stuff all day at the studio.  Then I was at the Orange Spot- have you ever tried their cayenne tea?”

“ I haven’t,” I say, and she tells me its to die for.

She places her laptop between us and shows me her photographs.

“This one here, with the magnolias, that was an adventure.”

Flower Portrait, by Mariah Channing

Flower Portrait, by Mariah Channing

“I bought this kiddie pool without really thinking about how I was going to make it all work.  On the day of the shoot, I had to blow the whole thing up by myself and then run back and forth into the photo room with a pitcher to fill it up before my model came- and all these art students are sitting around outside Redux, sketching away and staring at me, wondering out what I was doing.  I picked all the flowers by hand from trees by the side of the road.  The model was from Model Mayhem.  She was great.”

Channing crosses her hands over the back of her laptop, resting her chin over them with a sigh.  “This cameo shape is hard to fit a picture inside.  The shape is just so busy to begin with- I think maybe it just doesn’t work.  I’m going to move towards using a circle frame.  But this one,” she taps a cameo, “was in the Piccolo Spoleto exhibition.”

Magnolias, by Mariah Channing

Magnolias, by Mariah Channing

We talk about round frames, and those beautiful antique photographs you can find sometimes at thrift stores with the domed glass.  “Those are the best,” she sighs.

Where do her ideas come from?

She keeps a sketchbook.

“Words or doodles?”

“Both! and if a symbol comes to mind, I’ll define it for myself, too.  Writing stuff all around it.”  She scribbles in the air.

“Making kind of a mind map?”

“Yes, exactly.  And I write down ideas for costumes and postures too.”

Channing sources her costumes from antique and thrift stores, and also uses found objects.  “When I moved into Redux I found a super little-teeny-tiny hatched egg outside on the sidewalk.  It seemed like a good omen, you know?  So I kept it, I still have it.  I’d like to take more walks in the woods and find stuff…”

I tell her a rambling story about a pig’s skull I acquired (we ordered a pigs head for dinner one night at The Green Door, which was delicious albeit exceptionally porky), how I put it in the yard to be cleaned by ants.  But a raccoon or something ran off with it… my friend was going to put me in touch with some witches he knew who said they would let me sit in on a ceremony in exchange for bringing the skull.  But the skull had been my ticket, so without it…

Untitled.  (Channing hates naming her photographs.)

Untitled, by Mariah Channing.

Channing laughs. “I follow this guy on Facebook who finds these great bugs. He builds moth traps, with this great big white sheet…”

Occasionally she does boudoir photography.  “In college I became fascinated with classical nudes.  And Venus, Venus was my favorite.  I just think its neat, especially in this generation when women they they have to look a certain way.  This is a way they can fall in love with themselves again.”

Eventually, she says, she’d like to open a photography business.  She tilts her head on her hands to catlike effect.  “I have an idea, a kind of a two pronged approach as to how to do it, but I’m going to keep it under wraps for now.”

One of her pieces won best in photography at the Salon de Refuses, a show that was coincidental with the Young Contemporaries at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, and recently participated in a group show with the Charleston Female Photographers at the North Charleston Arts Festival.  

Memento Mori, by Mariah Channing.  Best in Photography, Salon de Refuses.

Memento Mori, by Mariah Channing. Best in Photography, Salon de Refuses.

She’s offering special edition matted photographs through Charleston’s Supported Art program, which offers glamorous baskets of art from six local artists to shareholders- sign up today to support local art!- and can be reached through Facebook or her website for questions and commissions.

-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  Her novel Evening’s Land recently won the Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship Award.

Lulie Wallace: The Sweet Life

Spiky Flowers, by Lulie Wallace

Spiky Flowers, by Lulie Wallace

Lulie Wallace is scrolling through designs she’s fashioned into patterns on her laptop: “There’s a million of them, there’s tons,” she says, smiling.

“I’ve licensed things before to places like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters- but what I’ve really been wanting to see is whole patterns [based on her work]- and it turns out there’s this whole field called surface design.  It turns out a lot of illustrators are in surface design.  And a lot of artists.”

We’re sitting in Redux’s classroom at two wooden tables tucked together just shy of the center of the room.  Big boxes of Wallace’s goods are stacked to one side, ready to ship out.  The AC blows down to one side of us warmishly, and if we turn to one side we can see into Wallace’s studio.

The burlap doors are still pinned back from her recent show, and from here I can see walls filled from floor to ceiling with cheerful canvases: flowers in patterned pots and pitchers, cheerful tablescapes.  One shows a table strewn with flower cuttings and a pair of scissors.  Wallace’s work is whimsical and folksy, with a largely pastel palette; each one beachy and full of sunshine like Wallace herself, who is wriggling in her chair beside me, happily vibrating in flip flops and cut offs as she scrolls.

“I love seeing art come off the canvas.  I mean, you look at a blouse, you look at a bedspread- they’re forms of everyday art, art you can actually use.  So my idea is to approach people who are already working with fabric and have them use my patterns.  There are five collaborators I’d really like to work with- I call them my dreamweavers.” She smiles when I ask who her dreamweavers are.  “Let’s call them a local clothing company, a kids clothing line, maybe a badass stationary line.”  A friend of hers comes into the classroom wielding a box of cupcakes;  Lulie dives in delightedly.  “Fabric is so nice because it doesn’t take a lot of money to see the art form to fruition.  And I can do fabric to order.  I can do it by the yard.”

Pink Flowers, by Lulie Wallace

Pink Flowers, by Lulie Wallace

 

So how does this work, turning one of her canvases into a pattern?

“I sketch with a very fine illustrator pen and then I scan into an ordinary printer.  I use Adobe Illustrator and photoshop.  I applied to get a UGA fabric design student to come in and intern here this summer, and she’s teaching me all the technical stuff I wouldn’t have known.  She’s super proficient in photoshop.”

Machinery whines from a studio on the other side of the gallery.

“It’s like a giant carpenter bee,” I say- and then wince as the whine gives way to hammering.

Wallace laughs.  “That’s Kaminer.  [A jewelry designer.]  We call her Haminer.”  Something on her screen suddenly catches her eye, and Lulie Wallace leans into her computer, concentrating.

I excuse myself for a few minutes to explore her studio, leaving Wallace to work. Behind the burlap doors I find a large wheelie cart piled high with brushes, paints, used palettes.  A pair of old-fashioned sunglasses perch owlishly above a small carton of maple almond butter in squeezie packs.  An emergency stash?  More palettes, paints, brushes.

Underneath all this is the aforementioned printer; ordinary, as Wallace said, and on the other side of the cart is a jumble of shoes, some tupperware, and a beach towel.  The walls are covered with canvases, and a tall metal chair sits in one corner, splattered with paint.  It is facing her newest piece, featuring a brightly colored table setting. When I come back out into the classroom, Wallace is scrolling again.

“Its so fun to scan your stuff in,” she says.  “There’s so many color manipulation possibilities.  Things you could never do ordinarily with a canvas- you can change the color palette in an instant, completely changing the personality of a pattern.  Same design, but with a different color.  We call that ‘color-ways.’”

“Beautiful word.”

“It is.” Wallace looks up as her intern, Brooke Davidson, sails into the studio.  Davidson’s sunny blonde hair is tied up and smoothed back by a wide black headband.

Davidson explains she primarily works in photoshop.  “You try to create a repeat where you don’t notice the tile.  When I look at fabric I can see if its’ got a good repeat or not.”

“Can you look at fabric and pick out the tile?”

“Kind of, sometimes.  There’s also this thing you can do called a half drop repeat, where the pattern kind of continues down, and so the next one fits into it a little lower.”

I ask her how she likes her internship.

“It’s been really fun, I love Charleston so much!  I wish I could stay, but I have to go back and student teach.  But maybe someday!”

We talk about the possibility of her getting a studio here, and of further collaborations with Lulie. She’s been working with Wallace to help her develop “a portfolio of a ton of repeats.  And I’ve been painting a lot this summer, I’m been so inspired by,” she sweeps her hands around us,  “all this!  I’m doing abstract stuff, playing with layers.  It’s cellular, almost.  And Lulie gives me so much good advice.  She said next week maybe I could even bring my stuff in, we can play around with it in photoshop.  Have you seen the lunchboxes she does?”

Davidson takes me around to the side of Lulie Wallace’s studio; more canvases, more boxes of product.  She pulls out an old fashioned metal lunch box coated in one of Wallace’s cheery design.

“How fun!”

“Yeah, she’s great,” Brooke says, grinning.

But cupcake break is over, and now Wallace and Davidson seem itchy to get back to work.  We hug goodbye, and I leave them still happily chattering and scrolling away under the air conditioner.

-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  Her novel Evening’s Land recently won the Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship Award.

Peaches and Cream, by Lulie Wallace

Peaches and Cream, by Lulie Wallace

Oil Painting with Erik Johnson

Where the Wind Always Howls

Where the Wind Always Howls

Fan whirring peacefully in one corner, the painter Erik Johnson moves around the studio, arranging wax paper palettes for his Monday night painting workshop. He is slender and graceful, with the reflective stillness of a Zen practitioner.  Johnson, who is a gallery artist represented by Robert Lange Studios, has been teaching workshops at Redux for “about a year,” he says.  “And I just finished up on a mural painting class at a high school.  Can you imagine doing that for a class in high school?”

I shake my head, smiling.  Johnson has the comfortable immediacy of a person who finds himself at home wherever in the world he goes, but he’s been in Charleston “about 18 years.”

I’m sitting in a plastic chair that is precisely the color of melty orange sherbet, my back to the burlap doors of the two smaller painting studios behind us; Johnson, wearing faded plaid shorts and periwinkle blue shirt, moves back and forth inside the horseshoe of folding tables, adjusting, rearranging.

He says offering this workshop has forced him to clarify his teaching.  “I almost feel sorry for my early students,” he says, laughing.

“I met some of my favorite teachers when they were teaching their first class.  I think sometimes it can make you more accessible.  Because you’re less jaded, more open, maybe.  But you say this class has clarified your teaching- what would you say are some of the core tenets to becoming a better painter?”

“Patience.  I’ve spend 200 hours on a single painting.  A lot of the work I do resembles my students’ in its early stages, but I just push on longer.  Monday night classes are three hours long, once a week, for four weeks.  And I offer an intermediate class after that for four weeks.  But the thing is, a lot of people just keep on taking workshop after workshop.  But they also need to paint on their own,” he says.  “Working on your own is how you learn what you need to ask in class, so that workshops like this are really valuable. And you can read about painting, too.  Independent study, that’s important.”

I scribble this down, then look up for more.

But Johnson shrugs, closing a drawer of paints.  “That’s about it.  You can teach technique and craft.  Experience is really what does it, what makes you a good painter.  But its most important that your art says something.  And I don’t know that you can teach that.”

“Does your work have a message?”

“Some of it.  I do different things, but I have some recurring metaphors.  Like goldfish- you know, you look at a goldfish in a bowl.  That bowl is its whole world, yet it exists in a much larger world.  We all have our own bowls, our own spheres of experience.  To me a goldfish is a perfect representative of the individual in the world.” He pulls out his ipad thoughtfully.  “I like to put them into different scenarios, these beautiful scenarios, but when you really look at it, you see there’s something there-” he shows me a photorealistic painting of an old fashioned scale, balancing a globe at one end and a fishbowl at the other.  “This one’s called The Needs of the Many.”

The Needs of the Many

The Needs of the Many

Leap

Leap

“And this one- “We Cannot Rest.”

We Cannot Rest

We Cannot Rest

“I’m a minimalist,” Johnson says.  “I usually just paint the object, maybe with a little something else.  And I work very slowly, but I like to paint the ephemeral- goldfish, fire- so in the early stages I compose my first sketch with photos.”  He puts away the ipad as the first of his students walks into the room.  He shakes her hand, greeting her warmly.  Daniela is a Brazilian biologist and the proud mother of three cats; this is her first time taking one of his workshops.  She beams, delighted to be here.

Johnson walks around the horseshoe squirting dabs of red paint onto the wax paper palette in front of each chair, talking to Daniela and I.  “So recently I was talking with some other artists about themes in their work, and this one guy said his work was about finding a home.”  He puts down the red paint and picks up yellow, making his second round.  “He says he’s looking for home still.  Would you say have a sense of home?” he says.

“My parents moved out of the house I grew up in a long time ago.  So when I go home to visit, I never experience have that deep sense of being at home, you know.  But I dream about it.  The rooms, that house.  When I’m dreaming, that house- or parts of it- is still where I live.  So I guess my sense of home doesn’t exist in the real.  I carry it in my mind.”

Daniela says that as an expat, her heart is forever in two places at once.  Wherever she goes, part of her still misses the home she’s just left.

Johnson is fascinated.  “It seems like so many people have that place they want to be.  A place that feels like home.  But I’m just here.”  He shrugs, smiling. “I’m just happy.  Although I do like to visit New York every couple of years.  I get an itch if I haven’t visited in a couple of years.  But I’d never want to live there.”

“You’re a bloom where you’re planted kind of guy.”

“I guess I am.”

You can follow Erik Johnson’s work on both Facebook and Instagram.  He likes “the videogame aspect of Instagram; I’m trying to reach that high score, that K behind my number!” and someday plans to sell sketches and drawings through social media.

On summer Mondays from 6-9, you’ll find him here at Redux, teaching patience, practicing kindness.

Do yourself a kindness and take his class.

-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  Her novel Evening’s Land recently won the Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship Award.

You Are Here

You Are Here

 

Hollis Hammonds: Worthless Matter

hammonds

Things Hollis Hammonds is Obsessed with:

1. Japanese Manga

2. Post Apocalyptic Narratives

3. Superhero Movies

4. Really Bad Action/Armageddon Films.

“I love seeing the explosions,” she says, leaning over the bar counter, peering around and smiling at me.  Professor and chair of visual studies at St Edwards University in Austin, Texas: but with her black pageboy, smoke-colored glasses and clear gaze, Hollis Hammonds could be a character in one of her manga adventures.

A mad professor, an evil genius, doing what she can to reimagine the materialistic world.

In real life, Hammonds has 11 full-time faculty members, and “I don’t even know how many part-time members.”  Although she teaches three classes a day and for a time also ran a gallery, she shows constantly.  She’s had 10 solo shows all around the country just in the past two years.  “I tend to be more productive in shorter blocks.”

We’re at Closed for Business on a steamy Sunday- on Mother’s Day, in fact, although as I write this, I realize I neglected to ask her if she has any children. (She doesn’t, although she does have a dog.)

“Can I get something really light and crisp?” she says.  “I tend to like Chinese or Japanese beer.”  The bartender amiably sets her up with a tulip of Hitachino. I order a Chocolate Rye Porter.

“I have a couple manifestations of the work,” she says.  “Primarily, though, I draw.  These piles, islands of objects.”

Aftermath: Asteroid

Aftermath: Asteroid

It started in April of 2011, when more than 200 tornadoes broke over the United States in a four day period.  Watching coverage, Hammonds became interested in how “we, as viewers, are interested in the aftermath of both man-made and natural disasters.”

Also drawing on the aftermath of the house fire she experienced herself as a teenager, she began making charcoal sketches on white paper: “Dystopian, futuristic, kind of dark but seductive.”

“Destruction is seductive,” I say.  “We’re drawn to what destroys us.”  Chocolate rye, you’ll be the death of me.

“Yes.”

In Ruins

In Ruins

So her work started as “documentation, homage. Of course, now I’ve turned it into this indulgent fascination with materialistic consumption.  My father was born in the 1920s, my mother in the 1930s.  So they hoarded everything.  I mean, we had an entire room dedicated to plastic containers.  They could not throw anything away.”

I’ve seen Hoarders.  I asked if animal carcasses were ever found amidst the containers.

“That’s the defining line, isn’t it?” Hammonds said.  “No, it never got that far.  Before the house burned, though, my mother had a lot of collections.  She had her mother’s things, her grandmother’s things.  Old furniture, things like that.  But it was after the fire that her desire to collect these things really intensified.  She began to collect dolls, Lilliput houses.  Trying to hang on to something, I guess.”

“You think collections are a way for people to try to comfort themselves?”

“Oh, sure.”

While Hammonds doesn’t have any collections herself, her husband, a graphic designer, does have “a collection of graphic design toys on this floating shelf.”  She laughs.  “He takes them down, rearranges them, everything.  It’s so funny.”

She likes to do work that is endemic to place, and so she always sources her materials from the cities where she makes her installation.  “I got this new studio two years ago, and I did start thinking it’d be great to have a space to collect things for installations.”  She shook her head, smiling ruefully. “But we have this policy- it’s from Pinterest– anything comes in, something has to go out.  We keep everything minimal and clean.  Even artwork has to be approved.”  She laughs again.  “By my husband.”

What do her parents think of her art?   “Maybe they’d feel a little… mocked, I don’t know.”  But her parents are both deceased.  They were each married and divorced prior to having Hammonds, and she has 11 half brothers and sisters, all ranging from 30 to 11 years older than her.  She shrugs when I ask her what they think of her work.

“A lot of them really don’t know what’s going on in my life.  One sister is a quilt artist.  Recently she says to me, “couldn’t there be some leaves?”  She sips her beer.  “You know, I look at people like Anselm Kiefer.  His work is very dark and also amazing.  I don’t think my work is as dark as his, really, but it also ride that line of beauty and terror. My installations, because they are in physical space- the viewer experiences them with a sense of wonder.  They’re visceral.”

I was curious if the house fire she experienced as a girl changed her immediately- or did its impact take a while to surface?

“Going through the process of losing everything as a teenager certainly informed my personality.  I learned to not have emotional attachment to objects.  I treat objects as a metaphor for the human condition but also self-worth.  I’m interested in how collections can validate us societally, personally.  And I’ve lost a lot of people, so I’ve also gone through the process of sorting through these… artifacts.   I have this shoebox. With my father’s license, my mother’s birth certificate, trinkets like that.  And I also have this box of old photographs.  I’ll keep those until they’re lost.”

“It would be awful to throw away photographs.  I always feel horrible when I see those boxes of old photographs for sale in antique stores.  But I wonder if maybe that’s what it takes to move on as a society, philosophically- the destruction/abandonment of objects.  Do you think objects might hold us back from progress?”

She shrugged.  “Our search for power is consuming the world.”  We were quiet a moment, looking around at the happy clutter of the bar.  “I used to be a figurative artist,” she mused.  “I was obsessed with it.  But I’ve got to this stage in my work when I’m more fascinated with storytelling. I took the figure out completely.  I use the things that are left behind to signify the figures.  Chairs, you know.  People’s things.”

“Keeping just the echo of the figure.”

“Yes.  I had that passionate obsession with drawing figures,” she says, to the counter.  “Not to say that it won’t come back, but I don’t have that anymore.”

We finish our beers and walk back to Redux.  It’s locked up, according to a hand-drawn sign, “for all the Mothers in the world. Happy Mother’s Day!”  Hammonds unlocks it, flips on the lights.  The interior is blissfully cool and quiet.  I hug her tightly and then leave her standing there, in an arena of people’s cast off things.

Come see what she’s made of them at the opening of Worthless Matter on May 16th.  Artist talk at 5:30 pm.

endemic sourcing

endemic sourcing

Planning the installation

Planning the installation

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-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  She is at work on her first Southern Gothic.

Dan Dickey

“I’ve always painted with a lot of texture, but I didn’t start splatter painting until I moved here.  This is my first studio that wasn’t also a kitchen or a bedroom,” Dan Dickey says.   We’re at the Tivoli, standing in his studio, where every wall is shielded with color-ribboned canvases.  His grandfather’s mower hulks in the center of the room, swizzled with yellow, orange, purple, white and pale-blue.

“I brought it down from Virginia, but when it wouldn’t start, I decided to cover it in paint.”  With a round, fox-colored beard and his way of rooting himself where he stands, Dickey has the distilled presence of a disciplined man.

He shows me how he dips the blunt end of a brush into a paint can and uses it to make a controlled drip over the canvas.

“Sometimes I put a dab of paint here and here, you know, and then I roll the middle of the brush through it.”  He indicated a wandering swath and then, looking at the long, paint-mottled brush in his hand, Dickey said, “I like this one.  I think I might put it up on a long, narrow canvas, just all by itself.  It has a pop.”

“Yeah, it does.”  It’s warm, breezeless in the room, and I pluck at my shirt, absorbed in his paintings.

He smiled.  “A lot of sweat goes into these.  Pretty soon it’ll get too hot to work in here at all, but I usually paint a month on, a month off.  So it’s all right.”

“What’s it like in the winter?”

“Well, it’s cold.”  He shrugged, indifferent.  “I like to work at night.  This canvas, here?  I got up to the crow’s nest up there, all whiskey drunk, and threw the paint down from there.”  The result was thick, ridged tributaries like dried sediment.

I looked around at the other studios.  White drapes swaying from rafters.  Ladders to nowhere, propped up against the walls.  Large, industrial furniture slouched in the corners, rusting comfortably; the warehouse was full of coves where artists could work deeply, losing themselves in process.

“Yeah,” I said, “and in places like this, alone in it at night?  You’re aware of space in a way you can’t be when there’s people in it.”

“Yeah, yeah, absolutely,” he said.  “This canvas is one of Andrew Smock’s.  Underneath all this,” he indicated the layers of paint, “is the Angel Oak, but I painted over it.  A lot of these canvases, actually, have stuff buried beneath them.”  On a wall outside his studio was an enormous piece created from a checkerboard of records and record sleeves, stitched by paint into an interpretation of the American flag.

He likes to bury physical objects as he paints; masks, tubs, tin lids; letting skeins of color veil the ordinary shapes, creating new, shifting ones.

Dickey’s studio feels deliciously like the pages of a Magic Eye book.  You can visit it at 656 King Street.

 

The whisky incident.

The whisky incident.

 

-article by Pauline West, a novelist and writer for Redux Contemporary Art Center.  She is at work on her first Southern Gothic.

Kimberly Witham’s Wunderkammer: Lovely Bones

DeerLemonCucumber

Kimberly Witham, who has a cool, firm handshake and uses words like “whack-a-doodle,” wants you to know most of her work doesn’t actually involve taxidermy.

“Mostly,” she says, “the animals are just straight up dead.”

It’s chilly in Charleston, late in the afternoon, and she is wearing a yellow peacoat, a cozy sweater with large buttons, jeans and cowboy boots.  She has short blonde hair and a frank, wide-set gaze.

Pointing out a tiny cut on the belly of a silvery blue snake, she tells me she’s been photographing road kill since 2007.

“See, he was probably clipped by a lawnmower.  This one was interesting.  With roadkill, you know, most things are stuck in rigor.  But snakes are flexible.  They have a little give.  So I wrapped him in position around this vase with wire, and stuck him in the freezer.”

She stepped back, looking at it.  “But it’s amazing how fast snakes melt.”

She’d poised him to coil upwards, after a beetle she perched in the vase’s bouquet.  But as the snake thawed, he began to droop, and she had to pop him back in the freezer.

“This deer over here-”  We walked to a collection of large photographs, each of a different fawn, positioned with milk glass, berries, vegetables.  “I had to put him back in the freezer three or four times.”  She uses a stand-up freezer with the shelves taken out.  “It’s big enough that you, for example, could just walk into it…”

“And this is twine, here?  Wrapped around his… what is this called…”

“His foreleg!  Well- so my studio is a sun porch.  It’s glassed in, so I get this wonderful natural light.  All my images use natural light.  But it’s small, just 5 or 6 feet.  I’d figured out exactly how I wanted him, but the way his leg was, I couldn’t get him all in frame.  I couldn’t back up far enough, you know.  So I took a hair dryer- this is gross, maybe you don’t want to put it in print- and I just bent over him and kind of… moved his leg…”  She moved her hands, making the gestures women use to explain how they did their hair.

The fawn weighed, oh, about 45 pounds.  She found it while running a trail near her house and carried it home in a laundry basket.  “It’s remarkably easy to sneak a dead baby deer past the neighbor’s children.  But it’s possible they suspect… Ah!  Perhaps also of note: all the flowers and vegetables you see here are grown in my own garden.”

The flowers and vegetables were beautiful.  Moving to a different photograph, Witham pointed out the correspondence between the shadowy pattern of the milk glass with the pattypan squash positioned beside it.  The squash had roundish yellow markings; the fawn, curling upwards into the air, balanced perfectly atop the glass, also possessed roundish markings.  Which were, of course, white.

“And this series I call ‘The Suburban Ossuary’- the place where bones are kept.”  Now we were catty corner to the fawns, looking at an evocative series of jaws, skulls, a pelvis.  One set of jaws, slightly grungier than the other, formerly belonged to a dog; the whiter pair, a fox.

“These jaws actually belonged to that guy over there,” she said, pointing to a fox (who was tailless) in a photograph across the room.  His paw was propped in what looked like a light fixture.

“I bury the animals after I finish photographing them.  Sometimes they get dug back up- by dogs and other things; we live near the woods- and I find them again.  And so the same animals reappear in my images, but in different forms.”

In the center of the room was a squirrel she called Buster, perched atop a totem made of a candy dish, goblet and watering can.  On the pedestal beside him was a tiny, finger-length mole inside an egg cup.  One of his paws was raised ever so slightly, almost playfully- on top of a doily and a bit of sunny embroidery.

“A whimsical grotesque,” Witham called it.  As I admired the embroidery: “I find all this great stuff at yard sales, thrift stores,” she said.  “When I’m done, I’m going to have the most amazing garage sale ever.”

But working hand in hand with death this way- had it changed her relationship with her own body?

“Actually, I’m inspired by this idea that everything goes away, is temporary- you know Vanitas paintings?”  I did not.  She explained to me the Dutch still life paintings of flowers, dead rabbits, bones.  “Right now I’m working on a darker series, with kind of this Caravaggio theme…

“When I see these dead animals, it makes me sad.  There’s this conflict between people and nature- these photographs are, I guess, a kind of testament to the fact that they lived.  That they lived, and they were beautiful.”

The dead things were beautiful still in her photographs.  Photography is a strange art.  As I’ve said here before, it gives the feeling of possessing a moment, an object: a life.  Maybe in the same way an obituary does.  In the captured time of a photograph, everything seems clear, obvious.  Preserved?  Maybe so.

 “Also I play a bit on this domestic aesthetic, that Martha Stewart idea of domestic perfection.  When I was in New Jersey,  every day I saw so many dead deer in the road.  I’d say to my students, ‘there’s so many dead deer!’ They’d just shrug and be like, “Oh, yeah.  It’s always like that.” But to see between five and ten new ones in the road every day- and there are these trucks always coming by to pick up the bodies, to dump them in the landfill… I started photographing them. But it was too literal, maybe.  Eventually I brought home a squirrel.  And from there it just… went.”

She is especially interested in squirrels.  There is a magnetized squirrel in a picture frame (code name Bubba), and pictures of many: one is curled up like furry filling in a pie dish; another is keeled over, stiff-legged in a dish, his tail drooping, Davy Crockett style, over one edge.

 (Side note: Davy Crockett was purchased by an art lover who hates squirrels. “Got to have it,” he said.)

We looked at a nuthatch in a soap dish- this particular nuthatch had dispatched itself against her mother’s window; another had a dried nasturtium in its beak.  The nasturtium arced over his small, gritty body- like a banner; his own epitaph, almost-  or else a killer fungi.

I found myself studying her photographs long after she left.  I kept coming back to Witham’s statement that many of the same animals reappear throughout her work, but in different forms– here is the creature entire: and here now are its bones-

Maybe this is the way of all things.  We visit upon an idea, it goes subterranean for a time, and then surfaces again.  Dreams evolve over a lifetime; lessons deepen; old loves become new.  For Kimberly Witham, the resurfacing of ideas is tangible.

Wunderkammer is here until March 8th, 2014.  Come and see.

Snake

Snake

Freshly installed: Kimberly Witham’s little man, “Buster”

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Pauline West is a novelist and member of Redux Studios.  She is at work on a Southern Gothic about a girl who opens a door between the lands of the living and the dead.